Before I start, I apologize at how late this review is getting posted, even for my new policy. However, I am this late not just because I had work and all that fun “real life” stuff getting in the way, but because of my relationship with this film itself. This was my favorite movie as a child ever since my parents agreed, after listening to far too much begging, to get it for me on VHS for Christmas when I was in kindergarten. I have more merchandise based on this film than I can count, and I actually tried to find all of it as I prepared for this review but it seems I may be missing pieces. This of course made reviewing the film difficult, because how do you review a film objectively when it molded a large portion of your childhood? Thus, I understand that this is going to be a lot of praising, but I have done my best to try to pick out some problem areas as well. Ok, here we go.
So I’ll start off by saying that my favorite thing about this movie is the music. The songs are catchy and easy to remember without being superficial and boring. They discuss important issues like trying to figure out what to do with your life, regret at messing things up when all you wanted to do was help, wondering if there’s more to life than what you have previously done, etc. I can’t help but find myself singing along to most of these songs as I watch the movie. In general, the songs also help stabilize the character development. For instance, a lot of Jack’s turning points are done through song, whereas for Sally’s Song we finally get to hear Sally sing. She’s not perfect (but by no means terrible), which helps remind us that Sally isn’t there to be the utterly perfect love interest with nothing wrong with her, and that it’s perfectly fine for her to be that way.
At least from what I have observed, it seems that the music is a favorite part of the film for other fans as well. Just think for one second: when was the last time you saw a screenshot from this film accompanied by a regular line of dialogue and not a song lyric?
While I love the themes at work in this film, I am more than willing to admit that the plot itself is not exactly the most original. This essentially takes the outcast/misfit theme from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and asks “but what if they had found some other holiday that suited them better?” Thus, the idea of Jack is born and decides he would rather cheer people up than scare them. Now, just because I say the plot is not original does not mean that it is bad. I think the idea of trading holidays was a great way to portray peoples’ differences, but you cannot ignore how heavily the various sources of inspiration material are referenced throughout this film.
There are also a few things that, plot-wise, do not make sense to me or seem particularly lazy. I think my biggest pet peeve (and perhaps I’m nit-picking) is this: Why does Oogie Boogie let Sally sew her leg back on at the end?
I can understand Oogie Boogie making her sew her hands back onto her arms so he could keep an eye on them, but giving her the other leg presents an opportunity to run away. The scene would have worked without her leg being sewn back on, and she could have been shown sewing it back on in the background as Jack apologizes to Santa Claus, similar to how she is shown in the background sneaking out of the laboratory with the fog juice when Dr. Finkelstein makes her replacement.
While I do appreciate the way shots are framed throughout most of this film, I do want to point out one shot in particular that is my least favorite shot in cinema history. The shot of Sally attempting to remind Jack of who he is while she’s making his Santa costume always bothers me. She is looking at Jack, who is off camera to the viewer’s right, but she is facing/pointing his portrait at the camera. This bothers me to no end because Jack is just off-camera, he is not all the way to Sally’s left. She does not have to have her eyes pointed all the way to her left side to see Jack, so why is she shown looking this far? I can’t stand looking at her eyes pointing all the way to the side when her body language suggests that she should be looking forward. Again, I understand that I am nit-picking, but this particular shot has bothered me for years.
Back to things I love about this movie, I will never stop loving the set design. This movie has a completely unique design that has often been imitated and recreated but never equaled. The sets almost look like 3-D post-impressionist paintings due to all the thin stripes and curvy/skewed lines, helping to feed your imagination of what the rest of this world could look like as you watch the movie.
Christmas Land and the real world also have wonderful set design, as the real world has very straight lines and gives off a typical suburban neighborhood vibe with just a hint of Norman Rockwell, while Christmas Land has very wide curves and large, bright objects to keep your eyes moving to different things and not focus on one single object for too long, because what’s the point of Christmas if you’re not experiencing sensory overload? The three worlds in the film are portrayed extremely well and each have their own, unique feel without being entirely stereotypical.
Again, this movie has shaped who I am today in ways I will never be able to fully express. It was innovative for its time and had no trouble finding a place in pop-culture, for good reason. This film is well made and has many wonderful themes, reminding us that it is ok to follow our dreams, as long as doing so doesn’t take away someone else’s happiness. I highly recommend it as a children’s movie and a family holiday classic.