Taylor M. Hall-Masiello

Film Analysis Essay: The Nightmare Before Christmas

            The film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and co written and produced by Tim Burton, was released in the year 1993. This was a time where class and labor issues intensified by NAFTA caused an upset among the working class of Americans. This was a film made using the tedious animation method called slow-motion.  The film issues faced in the film have some parallels with the class issues in North America during the time of the film’s release.  The 1993 film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, exhibits the cultural element of class through its separation of characters classified by traditions and strengths in the same way that classes were defined in North America.

            The North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, was passed in 1993, much to the dismay of many working-class Americans. NAFTA is an agreement between the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States that lifted trade barriers among the countries that signed it. Even before NAFTA was passed, North American countries traded freely with each other.  Since labor in Mexico was very cheap and abundant, people in the United States with jobs in manufacturing feared that they would lose their jobs to outsourcing (Nash, 222).

            The movie is focused on a town called Halloween Town.  At the start of the film, all of the residents of Halloween Town are participating in their annual celebration of Halloween. The leader of the town, Jack Skellington, also known as the Pumpkin King, is being fawned over by the residents for being spooky and devoted to Halloween. A side plot is established between the doctor and Sally. Sally is a Frankenstein-like creation of the old doctor, and the doctor treats her like she in unintelligent and incompitent. He constantly reminds her that he is smarter than she is and treats her like she cannot make decisions or have aspirations of her own.  The doctor treats Sally like she has bad intentions just because she is not educated and skilled like he is. The doctor is a member of the elite educated class while Sally is in a lower class that is created and controlled by the doctor (Bernardo).

              During the passage of the NAFTA agreement, Americans viewed the people of Mexico as threatening because of the abundance of unskilled laborers whom would inevitably wind up with many of the manufacturing jobs. President Clinton tried to ensure that no job loss would come from the passage of NAFTA, but outsourcing to Mexico was inevitable. Economists know that trade without barriers benefits everybody more than restricted trade, but this was not good enough to satisfy the American laborers who felt their job security was threatened by the labor force in Mexico (Heron).

            The main character, Jack, feels empty inside and goes for a long walk into the woods. He comes across a series of doors in the trees, each door representing the portal to a town devoted to a different Holiday. At first, Jack is leery of the door for Christmas Town because he realized that it was unfamiliar to him, but when he opens it a gust of wind pushes him in. During the time of the passage of NAFTA, many Americans did not want to open up the door for free trade specifically to Mexico because they made uneducated speculations about what free trade would bring about, but the governments of The United States, Canada, and Mexico opened the door for them.

                Once in Christmas Town, Jack took a peek into the world of Christmas and was amazed by the different class of people that lived there and how they operated very differently. The industry and production in Christmas Town was much more productive than the slow and specialized labor force in Halloween Town. In America labor was slower, more expensive, and less available. In Mexico, labor was very cheap and more efficient.

              Jack brings his misunderstood findings to the citizens of Halloween Town upon his return. The citizens of Halloween Town are of a different class than the citizens of Christmas Town and cannot understand the way things work in Christmas Town. When Jack describes the giving of gifts, the people of Halloween Town automatically assume that the gifts are bad and are secretly meant to trick or scare the recipients (Padva). Like the citizens of Halloween Town, many laboring Americans misunderstood Mexico. They believed that the passage of NAFTA would take their jobs away from them and the economy would fail. Just like the citizens of Halloween Town, they made wrongful and ignorant assumptions about people of another class without having the full details or knowledge about them. The citizens of Halloween Town were wrong to assume that Christmas Town was bad. Likewise, the American laborers were wrong to assume that utilizing the massive and cheap labor force that Mexico had to offer would be bad for Americans. All economists know that trade benefits everyone, and the total surplus of America would increase as a result of the allowance of free trade (Heron).

              The film suggests that people should not fight the class system. During the film, Jack becomes obsessed with re-creating Christmas in Halloween Town, and even goes so far as to capture Santa Claus in an attempt to take out the competition. When Jack Skellington makes an unsuccessful attempt to do the job that should have belonged to the residents of Christmas Town, he fails and makes everyone worse off. This shows that each class has its own strengths and when another class tries to take the job or function of that class, it does not work well.

            The film may also suggest that in real life people should not fight the class system. As cruel as some people may argue it to be, the class system is efficient in terms of production. This goes to say that it is more productive to allocate the jobs to the classes which perform them the most efficiently. Since Mexico’s strength is that it is abundant in cheap labor, Mexico should be allocated the manufacturing jobs. Using means of production that require less input (are cheaper) means that whatever is being produced will be cheaper to consumers. Following the class system by allowing free trade would benefit America by lowering the price of manufactured goods (Carr).

            The people of Halloween Town misunderstood the people of Christmas Town and made attempts to allocate jobs in a way that was not economical just to please certain people who wanted to take over Christmas. American laborers wanted to allocate resources in a way that was not economical to please themselves instead of doing what was best for Americans as a whole in the long run. The film suggests that people cannot fight the class system and should stay true to the class that they belong to. The uprising of American laborers against NAFTA and the attempt to take over Christmas show that when people make uneducated and uniformed decisions, they usually turn out to be wrong.

                                                                                          Works Cited

Bernardo, Susan M. "The Bloody Battle of the Sexes in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow." Literature/Film Quarterly 31.1 (2003): 39. ProQuest.              Web. 1 Nov. 2010.

Carr, Deborah, ed. "Social Class." Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human Development. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. 412-16. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 01 Nov. 2010.

Heron, Tony. "The Limits of Regionalism: NAFTA's Labour Accord." Capital & Class 94 (2008): 131-36. ProQuest. Web. 01 Nov. 2010.

Nash, Gary B., and Donald T. Critchlow, eds. Encyclopedia of American History. Vol.      10. New York: Facts on File, 2003. Print.

Padva, Gilad. "Radical Sissies and Stereotyped Fairies in Laurie Lynd's The Fairy Who Didn't Want to Be a Fairy Anymore." Cinema Journal 45.1 (2005): 66-78. ProQuest. Web. 30 Oct. 2010.