"Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you've seen in your dreams," opens the 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Going opening night as a kid felt like a dream; seeing it at 10pm and getting the Kids' Combo blurred reality's edges in the best sugar high, up past my bedtime kind of way.
For some people, Die Hard is their edgy holiday movie. I am not edgy: While Die Hard is a fine film, The Nightmare Before Christmas is mine. There's Tim Burton's fairy tale genius. Danny Elfman's soundtrack. The two-faced mayor.
As the self-appointed tour guide for Halloween Town, Christmas Town, and as-of-yet undiscovered towns in the tri-state holiday area, I'd like to walk you through the main locales that make up this world. This movie gave me 116 minutes of stop-motion magic, a pre-sexual crush on a skeleton, and a deep and fierce love that persists to this day. It seems like the least I could do.
We begin in Holiday Woods, which is like a commuter town between Halloween and Christmas Town; an exurb with a big forest preserve that's about the same distance between the other seasonal cities. They're close to three highways and have a big, surprisingly good autumn festival. The apples are not quite apples, but that's the closest comparison you're able to draw.
Up until recently I was mildly annoyed there was no Hanukkah Town, but after careful consideration have determined through a review of the other doors (Independence Day, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving) that they focused on festivals with a secular component.
I think about this movie a lot.
The exact geography of this macabre metropolis is hard to pin down: its dark, cobblestone paths twist and turn, bordered by walls and iron-wrought fences that protect a motley assortment of looming residences. Highlights include Jack's House, Dr. Finklestein's Lab, and the Halloween Town Centre, complete with town hall and functioning monster fountain.
A few hours north of Halloween Town (two if you take the train) is Christmas Town, a Yuletide paradise that was definitely built on a grid. It's colorful and well-lit, with A-frame houses built from a variety of holly-draped materials: their common architectural style is cute. The streets of this mountain nook glow warmly, but retain the pristine beauty of a fresh snow. It's not surprising that Jack got a crush.
This gently curling tuffet at the edges of Halloween Town arches out over the pumpkin patch, cutting through a graveyard should you need an expressway to the Hinterlands. This is where everything begins for Jack: the despair that leads him to explore, his romance with Sally, and his ultimate return to what he knows and loves. This is sort of a spoiler, but the movie's been out for 24 years.