Steve Higgins, an award-winning English professor at Lewis and Clark and your favorite poetry professor on Tik Tok, has loved The Nightmare Before Christmas for 30 years. We talk about merchandise, music and lessons for aliens in the Tim Burton classic.
Follow Steve on Twitter and Tik Tok where he does one minute poetry lessons.
Follow @findingfavspod on Instagram and Twitter. Rate and review on Apple Podcasts
- Righteous Gemstones
- Ghosts - CBS and BBC
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Corpse Bride
- Burger King Watches
- Original Trailer
- Sally's Song
- How to light hanukkah candles
- Donate to HIAS or JDC
Hello, my name is Steve Higgins. And my favorite thing is "Nightmare Before Christmas."
Welcome to the Findings Favorites podcast where we explore your favorite things without using an algorithm. Here's your host, Leah Jones.
Leah Jones 0:19
Hello, and welcome back to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. It is Sunday, March 13th. Thank you for staying with me when I went missing last weekend. I am now two weeks into my three weeks of radiation for breast cancer. And a friend described it as -- every radiation treatment is the equivalent at the day at the beach, when it comes to how dehydrated you get and the naps you take. And boy, have I been napping. Also, we returned to the office at work. And I really missed seeing people, so I've been going back to the office trying to binge some in-person experiences in case the next variant comes through. So, I have been super tired from all the extra walking. I've been using a cane, because I got really weak after chemotherapy. I'm on some steroid inhalers which are helping my lungs -- my lungs took a big hit from chemotherapy, my strength. While I was never vomiting, chemo did me in, and then radiation has made me a sleepy, sleepy, Leah. When it came to trying to edit last weekend, on top of some technical issues -- the service I used to record interviews didn't sync properly, so you might hear some goofs during this episode, because I switched to a new format -- it just didn't download correctly, but I got most of what we needed.
Leah Jones 2:10
I've been doing a lot of napping, also have been paying close attention to the war in Ukraine. And efforts to get refugees moved out of Ukraine into border countries and from border countries into Western Europe or to North America or to Israel. Two places that are getting my money, my donations, are JDC, which is known as "The Joint" -- they're doing a lot of great on the ground work. There's a lot of mutual aid groups that different friends of mine have been working in, so sometimes I'm Venmo-ing someone, but also HIAS does a lot of good work in this area, as well. I'll put some links in the show notes, if you're looking to make donations to support refugees that they're trying to get out of Ukraine.
Leah Jones 3:07
This interview is with Steve Higgins -- you met Steve in season one of Finding Favorites. He came to talk about "Doctor Who." This week, we are talking about "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which is coming up on its 30th anniversary. So, Disney, when you're looking for someone to bring to your 30th anniversary stuff, Steve Higgins is your guy. With all that said, it has been the time change and while I napped a lot, I slept a lot today and yesterday, I think I need to go back to bed. So wear your mask, wash your hands, get your booster, and keep enjoying your favorite things.
Leah Jones 4:08
Welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. And this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things and get recommendations without using an algorithm. This week, I am joined by Steve Higgins, as you should remember from our "Doctor Who" episode. He's a professor at Lewis and Clark University in the St. Louis area and also does comic books and is part of the comic book, drinking and drawing community down there, as well. And, over the pandemic, started doing these very cool Tiktok introductions to poetry -- one minute poetry, three minute poetry. You had a couple go viral. Steve, how are you doing today?
I'm doing great. Yeah, it was very strange. I did one on "Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost. And, it really did kind of explode, and it got me a few thousand more followers than I had before; not that I'm a huge TikTok influencer or anything. I'm almost at 4,000 followers, so it's not like I have millions or anything but hey, I got a fan base; I'll count it.
Leah Jones 5:32
And I feel like you also had some celebrity comment, not just TikTok celebrities, but real celebrities were commenting and reposting.
That's correct. I had Alyssa Milano, because someone who started following me also reached out to me to be part of an initiative that she was doing to support the ERA a while back, as well. So yeah, it was very strange. Talk about a short poem on Tiktok, and get attention from your eight-year-old self's biggest crush.
Leah Jones 6:13
Who knew that was the path? And how has this winter been for you?
It has had its ups and downs, for sure. We started our spring semester back virtual, -- because of Omicron -- the first three weeks of the semester, which is really vital to building a rapport with students, so that was a little bit rough. Also, because my daughter attended school in-person at a school that is next to where I teach, I wasn't just getting to stay home, I was having to drive her to school. Since my classes would then start, I would have to go up to where my office was, and sit in my office for six hours teaching virtually with no one else around. It was very surreal, very, very lonely. But we're back to being on campus now, and it's much improved, getting to see faces, even if they're half-covered by masks. That's all right.
Leah Jones 7:28
It's kind of the best combination right now -- in-person with masks.
Unfortunately, as of this recording, we will be dropping the mask mandate on Monday. Think it's a little soon, if you ask me. I don't know that the numbers really weren't -- that other than if you change the metrics to judge the numbers, well, then sure.
Leah Jones 7:57
I rhink that the metric is ecause people's will to wear masks, not the actual science, but people have just given up.
So I told my students, "I'm still gonna wear mine. You can choose whether or not to wear yours; it's your choice, but please try to be respectful of the other people in the class and their choices." Luckily, I am teaching now, even though I'm an English professor, I'm teaching in a science building. They have me in this really classic lecture hall; it's huge. It's the biggest room I've ever taught in, but I still only have 25 students, so they're a lot more spread out and I think it is beneficial to our social distancing a great deal. So even the kids in the front row -- I'm still six feet from the kids in the front row, so it won't be too much of a problem.
Leah Jones 9:05
Very different than the normal English room set-up, which is like desks on top of each other, then squeeze them into a circle, and try not to step on each other. I think -- cause we're dropping them, too, in Illinois -- well, there's no "on one hand," where I think we should be dropping the mask mandate yet. Because until the kids under five have access to it -- I don't know why we're dropping the -- truly the least we can do to protect kids and people that are immunocompromised, is at least wait until the vaccine is available to the under fives. Or, hold the mask mandate until *after* the next drinking holiday, which is St. Patrick's Day. At least hold it until a week after St. Patrick's Day. Because Santa-con fucked us for Omicron. St. Patrick's Day, the first year of COVID, they allowed everything to happen in Chicago. The drinking holidays, I blame a lot of the variant formation. So that's all, I just wish they would have kept it through St. Patrick's Day. But I am not a politician or a scientist.
I think that if we blame the drinking holidays, then we need to name the variants after beers, since it's already Corona, it could be the Michelob variant and the Pabst variant.
Leah Jones 10:55
[laughter] So, we would be coming up on the green Miller Lite variant -- that's gonna be the next one. The green -- the shamrock shake is the next variant. That's what I'm calling it. So, we're gonna talk about a particular movie, but I'm curious if any other pop culture things have caught your eyes over the last few months. Is there anything new that you've been watching?
You mentioned that I do comics, I teach comics. Most of my comics consumption or most of my pop culture consumption of late, has been catching up on comic book-based media. I watched "Invincible," finally -- I got caught up on that -- I watched the third season of "Doom Patrol." And I loved and enjoyed "Peacemaker," like a lot of fellow geeks. I thought that "Peacemaker" was excellent; James Gunn does a great job all around. I don't know that I've seen anything that he has been involved in that I didn't think was great. I was really loving "Peacemaker," and watching it week after week. That's probably been the big one that that grabbed my attention lately.
Leah Jones 12:21
And that's John Cena in a very homemade superhero costume -- is that what I've gathered from memes?
Somewhat? Yes, yes. So the premise of the show is that John Cena's father was a white supremacist supervillain. And he has tried to move past that, by striking out on his own somewhat. He's always confronting issues of his father's legacy. He's confronting issues of the fact that he has, perhaps himself, done some bad things. Is he a hero? Is he a villain? And he's working to prevent an alien invasion with a crew of people that he's not sure he can trust or not. And it's heartwarming, but it's also hilarious. It's violent, like you expect a James Gunn production to be, and got a great soundtrack. It's just fun, been an enjoyable watch.
Leah Jones 13:38
It's definitely on my radar. I've been having a harder time figuring out what shows I want to watch lately. But yesterday, I was like, "Let's see what's happening on 'Righteous Gemstones.'" The season -- which is John Goodman, Danny McBride -- Danny McBride is the creator. John Goodman is the patriarch, and I think I watched an entire season last night. I stayed up until two in the morning. I was like, "Oh, there's time for one more. There's time for one more." So "Righteous Gemstones" really hit me in the right spot yesterday. But I'll try "Peacemaker."
I have not checked that out; I will have to follow your recommendation. I have a co-worker that raves about that show. So, I'll have to give it a watch.
Leah Jones 14:34
It hits the -- it's absurd. It's absurdist comedy, but it really takes the Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye Bakker stuff that was on TV when we were kids, and puts a camera inside the house, inside the family compound. I haven't watched "Succession," either, but what happens when kids are raised wealthy and have to take on the family business, but in this family, the family business is God and the church. And if you're raised without much wealth, can you have a relationship with God? And it's Danny McBride, so you kind of know the answer going in.
Leah Jones 15:26
But John Goodman as the patriarch, this season, I've felt, has "Raising Arizona" vibes to it in a way that the first season didn't. It was more focused on the John Goodman character differently; the first season I feel was more on the kids. But it's great. The music is outstanding, the costuming, the storylines. I am constantly surprised by what's happening. I do not see the stories coming, which is why I watched five or eight hours of it yesterday.
I like a good bingeable comedy. I think, right now, that's what I need. I need lighthearted, I need -- you know that it's half an hour, and I can choose to watch three hours of it if I want, but it's not going to *require* that of me. A lot of films that I've wanted to watch lately -- I want to see "Nightmare Alley," but it's two and a half hours. And I would rather watch an entire season of a show -- six half-hour episodes than watch one film for two and a half hours. Ghosts, I have not -- I've had a lot of people recommending the original British version, which is also on HBO Max, if I'm not mistaken.
Leah Jones 16:52
I think so, yeah.
And again, handful of episodes, that definitely is right up my alley, and I need to give it a shot.
Leah Jones 17:02
The premise is amazing, and I haven't watched the BBC version. And I understand that the BBC version -- it's an improv troupe that had been doing this as a stage show for years. So their chemistry is off the charts because they are off-set, real life; it is one improv troupe that's been together for years that became the cast of the show. But, I've just watched the American version, and it is also phenomenal. I think it's a great concept that could work, if you've got a good team of writers and actors. I would watch it in countless settings. Oh, another show that is not quite a comedy --have you seen the "Beforeigners"
No, I've not even heard of that.
Leah Jones 17:53
It's a Norwegian show, so it's set in Norway. It's a cop, it's a grizzled, old police officer, coming back with drug problems, and his new partner. "Before Nurse" is set in today, but the problem, or the cultural problem, is that people have started from different eras of Oslo, accidentally time-traveling to current times. So every night, there's a flash of light in the water, and people pop up in the water, and they're either Neanderthals or Vikings; they're from the 1800s. Those are the three time periods, and they keep accidentally time traveling to current times, and they have to be folded into societies.
Leah Jones 18:57
So they're the foreigners because they're from the before times, but they are the people of the land. It gets into issues of racism and immigration, but everyone's from the same land. And the premise is, it's a global event -- it's happening on the shores of every major city. Every city around the world is having these time travelers show up and is integrating them into their society. So, there's obviously the drama of that, but the way that they've done the world-building and the way they handle like trans-temporal relationships -- when people of one time fall in love with people of another. So, the cop story in this, is that his new partner is the first Viking to join the police force. So, it's great. It's a drama with very dry, funny elements to it. It's not going to hit your "I need a comedy," sweet spot, but it is really interesting, and the world-building is outstanding.
And what streaming service would this be available?
Leah Jones 20:19
HBO Max. There's three seasons of it.
That sounds really interesting. That definitely sounds up my alley, so I've got to check that out.
Leah Jones 20:34
They've set it up that it could happen -- how there's only a Norwegian version of the show, when it is so ripe for fanfiction, it's so ripe for -- like franchise the hell out of it, put it everywhere, set it in every -- set it in Chicago, set it in New Orleans, Cairo, anywhere with a body of water. Because the one rule is people come out of a body of water and that's basically everywhere people live, or have lived for centuries and eons, is if there's water. It could be anywhere -- set in Buenos Aires. I want to see the show everywhere.
There are probably people right now out there working on developing it and trying to figure out how they can film in Vancouver and make it look like an American city.
Leah Jones 21:46
So, what are we talking about today? And reveal from the beginning, have you written any major academic papers about it?
No, I have not. This is just something I've been a fan of since I was 17. And that would be the Tim Burton-produced, Henry Selick-directed stop-motion classic, "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Leah Jones 22:11
"Nightmare Before Christmas." I'm so excited to talk about it. I'm sure I saw it in the theaters, but I've only seen it a handful of times. When did this become -- has it been a top five movie since you saw it the first time? Or has it grown over time?
Absolutely. The first time that I saw it -- even before I first saw it -- back pre-internet days, the way that we found out about the existence of things was through magazine ads, and the teasers and trailers that would drop on TV. I remember looking at an issue of like "Rolling Stone" or "Spin," or something. And it had a full-page ad that was a black and white illustration -- mostly black. It said, "Meet Jack," and had the silhouette of the Jack Skellington character. They did this for a number of the different characters; "Meet Sally," "Meet The Mayor." I would see these full-page ads and magazines and I'm like, "What is this? It looks so interesting." I love the design of the characters from even before I saw them in motion for the first time.
Like a lot of '80s kids, really into Tim Burton. You got "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," "Beetlejuice," the 1989 "Batman." These were very formative to me. Then see that this is a Tim Burton production -- like, "Okay, this is this gonna be something that I'm going to be super, super into, I'm sure." So even before I saw the film in the theater, I knew, "This is my wheelhouse. This is something I'm into."
Leah Jones 24:27
Is it before or after "Edward Scissorhands," because that was the Tim -- that and "Beetlejuice," were my top two Tim Burton.
I believe it was after, because "Nightmare" is like '93. I think that it is after and I was never as into "Edward Scissorhands." A lot of people I saw it, and I thought it was okay, thought it was good. But, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," I saw dozens of times and "Beetlejuice," I saw it dozens of times and "Batman," if we started the movie right now, I could quote the movie along with it, every part, all the way through. Even though I haven't seen it probably in 20 years, I saw it enough times in the first 20 years of my life, that it's ingrained.
Leah Jones 25:27
Is that the Batman with Michael Keaton, and the soundtrack is primarily Prince?
Yes. Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
Leah Jones 25:41
One of the best soundtracks of all time.
Agreed -- the soundtrack and the score. The score, of course, is Danny Elfman. That vital partnership that made "Nightmare" such an amazing film, as well.
Leah Jones 26:04
So, you see the ads, you start catching the ads, you start meeting the characters? And then, do you remember seeing the first preview for it? Did you know it was stop-motion and not standard animation?
I do vaguely recall seeing the first trailers aired. Honestly, what I remember more, is that Burger King was having a promotion with the movie when it was coming out. Burger King would run commercials with the characters, clips from the movie, and they were doing a thing where if you bought a meal, or you bought a particular burger or something, and then you paid an extra $1.99 or something like that, you could get a "Nightmare Before Christmas" watch, and they had four different watches. I very, very firmly remember like, "I gotta get that watch. That's so cool." So the first time -- long before Hot Topic grabbed a hold of "Nightmare Before Christmas" and was like, "Let's merchandise the hell out of this," Burger King watches were like, "I gotta get that Burger King watch." And I did, and I wore it until it broke, because I loved it. It was fantastic.
Leah Jones 27:27
That's great. For people that -- obviously, there are going to be spoilers. We're talking about a movie that is almost 30 years old. Is that possible? 1993? No, I don't accept -- I don't accept that it's 30 years. But Jack Skellington is from, if my memory serves me correctly, and then you will you will fix the plot. He's from Halloween Town, and so his town's job is to make Halloween happen for humans, I think. Then he learns about Christmas, and it looks like fun, so he's trying to bring Christmas to Halloween Town or bring more Halloween into Christmas.
He discovers Christmas. And he's been in a very morose place of, "This is Halloween again, same old, same old." Life has kind of lost some of its vitality for him. So, he discovers Christmas, and he thinks, "This is the way to revitalize myself. This is something new." He tries to figure out what Christmas is first, and then he decides that he's going to take it over -- he's going to let Santa have a break for a year and he'll be the new person doing Christmas. And involves the kidnapping of Santa Santa Claus. And it involves some wild shenanigans, as the residents of Halloween Town don't understand what Christmas is. So, they try to make a Halloween version of Christmas, not understanding how different the holidays are. So, it's fun. And it's got a lot of great jokes for people who are fans of both holidays. It's beautifully animated, beautifully rendered. Every element of the design is wondrous, and it captures the joy of Halloween and the joy of Christmas in equal parts.
Leah Jones 30:00
I'm curious -- I don't want to jump, I don't want to time travel all immediately -- to you introducing your daughter to it because we talked before about introducing your daughter to "Doctor Who." Talk to me about your -- it comes into theaters, so you get to see it for the first time -- now, is this something you went out and got on VHS? So you could keep watching it when it came out? What are your, high school, college -- the early years with this movie? What's your relationship with it?
So, the movie came to theaters when I was a junior, I believe in high school. And the theater in my small town didn't get -- we had two theaters, that was all we had in our -- two different screens, I guess, in our theater, and we didn't get it. But a local town nearby, Salem, Illinois, did. Luckily, I was of the right age that I would be able to drive to the theater and go see it, and I am *relatively* sure that I went on a date with to see it -- as was often the case with me at that time, a girl that I dated for probably about six weeks and then never saw again. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.
Leah Jones 31:31
That's like normal high school dating. That is fine.
All right, good. I was just so enamored of it in the theater; I thought it was amazing. I was a person who had a pretty extensive VHS collection. When I went off to college, I joined Columbia House so that I could get my VHS tapes, and I was pretty obsessive about it. Even at the time, I need widescreen, I need it to be -- give me the black bars on top and bottom, I need to see it in the full picture. I was tired of watching films that were pan and scan, and part of the image being cut out. So, I went to great lengths to track down a VHS copy that was widescreen. I believe that I had to pick it up at -- what was the name of that mall chain -- Sunset Video or something along those lines; special ordered it.
Leah Jones 32:43
Or bought movies in Blockbusters where you rented movies.
So, I had to go to Sunset Video to track down and special order a copy of it on on VHS, so that it was fully widescreen, the full picture. And when I eventually switched to DVD, it was one of the first DVDs I bought, and I still have that DVD to this day. That is pretty low picture quality, to be honest. Usually now when I watch it, I turn it on Disney+, and I stream it instead, because the picture quality is so much better. But I still have the DVD -- I'm very much a proponent of physical media. My favorite things, I'm still always going to buy on physical media.
Leah Jones 33:32
Well you can't trust -- that immediately sounds like I have a tinfoil hat on. But digital media that you don't have on your own hard drive, you can't trust an Amazon or Disney to allow you to keep access to it. So, physical copies still really matter.
I 100% agree. And that is why I will always still buy physical media of my favorite things. My collection has largely shrank over the years just for space issues, I've whittled it down to the things that matter to me the most, but I do still have, to this day, some VHS of some things that I don't know have ever been released on DVD or Blu Ray and I'm like, "Well, I don't want to not ever have a copy of this." Even though I don't have a working VCR anymore.
Leah Jones 34:29
But you could get one if you need it.
Leah Jones 34:35
I interviewed Max Pacheco at some point during the pandemic about this. He was helping hunt down lost Disney movies, things that had been maybe shown on a Friday night Disney on ABC or trying to find -- often times, the one person like the director, generally a man, his personal VHS copy, and he would find that person through IMDb email them, beg them to borrow the tape, promise to return it quickly. And he's now down to like maybe 10 movies of this -- completing the whole Disney catalog -- a way from finding all of them. And a number of them have been from actors and directors getting their VHS copy. He gets it, he makes a digital copy of it, and then sends them back the tape and a digital copy. But absolutely, there's things that went on TV that never made it into commercial circulation.
I will say, as a literature professor, it is interesting to think about the stories that might be lost to time in in 100 years, 200 years. But then, also to think about the stories that have been lost to time. Whenever I teach "Beowulf" to my British literature class, I always kind of mention to them, "We don't know that there weren't more Beowulf adventures. What we have with Beowulf is essentially like someone having DVD copies 200 years from now of "Sopranos" seasons two, three and six. And we don't know were there more? It feels like there might have been more, but we just don't have those written down.
Leah Jones 36:44
Yeah, and as you look at people that do digital only releases -- an author, I really like Jasper Ford, he has a series called the "Thursday Next" series, where people go in and out of book world. It's weird that there's a war in Ukraine this week, because in his books, though, the war but about Crimea, has never ended. But one of the other things he talks about is one is in Book World -- characters, when their book isn't being read, they can get to go on adventures with other people, when their books aren't being read. But eventually, when a book has been read for the last time, the words and characters are allowed to be recycled into new works.
Leah Jones 37:42
He really thinks about what happens when a book goes completely out of circulation; when the characters are never needed to be on the page again. He has really developed a way of thinking about what happens when books are no longer published, when the last copy is gone, when they're no longer being read, when they're lost to time. And the risk of an Amazon-like company, making things digital and then limiting how you can let people borrow books digitally, from you? What happens when it's not a physical media, and the company has ultimate control over the text. There's a lot of good stuff in there. I love it.
I have never read those books. I have seen them and been intrigued by them before that. I didn't know that was kind of the premise. That is very interesting, because I do think about that a lot. That very easily Amazon could say a particular work, "We don't want to sell that anymore. We're gonna wipe that away." And in that censorship that could happen again, not to put on a tinfoil hat at all, but that's the joy of physical media and I really do think that physical media is never going to die 100%. People like holding something in their hands and interacting with it in the physical world, the real world.
Leah Jones 39:38
Okay, so the back to "The Nightmare Before Christmas." You chase down the widescreen version of the VHS tape.
Yes. And to tie it in -- we are coming up on the 30th anniversary of "Nightmare Before Christmas," and if they reissue it -- I don't have it on Blu-ray yet; I would love to. Give me a cool package, give me some special bonus features, give me a documentary about the making of, and I'm there.
Leah Jones 40:10
I hope they'll take it back into the movie theaters.
Leah Jones 40:14
That's a no-brainer; that would be great. It would be really cool to see it again and hear it again in a theater.
And I would love to take my daughter to see it on a big screen. I think that would be amazing.
Leah Jones 40:27
What was it like, introducing her to Jack Skellington and his friends?
I worried that she was going to find it a little scary. But she didn't -- because it's of that caliber of a lot of "scary things," that it's fun-scary, as opposed to horrifying-scary. She has been able to make that distinction from a very young age. I think I mentioned this in the "Doctor Who" discussion, that she didn't get scared by the things that I thought might have scared her, because she recognized it was fun. As opposed to you know, she can't walk by the movie section of Target because she knows that she might see the cover of the movie it and she's like, "That's just scary-scary."
And "Annabelle," and she saw a commercial for "Annabelle" once and she was like, "Nope, that's not fun-scary." So when she did watch "Nightmare," she must have been just two or three probably, and was really kind of intrigued by these characters. She had seen the characters on daddy's T-shirts. She was familiar with the characters from some of the merchandise that I do own. She's like, "What's this? And what's this? What's this?" She absolutely was drawn in. She likes a lot of things that I'm super into. She is not as into them as I am, but she at least happily tolerates them and that's all I can hope for really.
Leah Jones 42:24
And tell me about the merchandise because you're right -- Hot Topic really went all-in. It's shocking to me. I feel like people have been wearing "Nightmare Before Christmas" merch for the last 20 years, minimum. It doesn't seem like it went out of style, necessarily, like other movies have. But what are the different types of merch that you've bought that you like from the movie?
For me, it is mostly T-shirts. I don't wear that many T-shirts, because as a professor, every day I'm going in in a button-down and trying to look somewhat semi-professional. So T-shirts have always kind of been delegated to weekend wear, but of all of the things that I am into, I have more "Nightmare Before Christmas" themed T-shirts than any other wearable attire -- any other pop culture icon. "Doctor Who," "Star Wars," comics, it's mainly a "Nightmare Before Christmas," that's my key thing I bought. We've taken my daughter to Disney World a few times, and whenever I'm there, I'm always looking for something "Nightmare" related as my souvenir that I'm going to get -- my one thing.
Over the years, I bought a book on the making of "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Nightmare Before Christmas" shot glasses and little tchotchkes more than anything else. But I do have a couple of stuffed animals -- one time, we took my daughter to Disney World and they had Mickey as Jack, and Minnie as Sally. And I'm like, "We gotta get these,"
Leah Jones 44:32
-- required --
And I said that they were for her, but a year ago, when she had gone through her stuffed animals and decided she was going to get rid of quite a few, because we were running out of room. Getting overwhelmed with stuffed animals, as happens with the younger, sometimes. All those ended up in the to-go pile and I'm like, "They're going to my office, is where they're going."
Leah Jones 45:06
It was nice of you to let her have custody of those particular stuffies for a while.
But now they are mine. And they they sit in my office, proudly displayed.
Leah Jones 45:28
And what about -- I feel like I went pretty far away from the plot, because I was asking about media and merch -- if we come back to the movie? What are some of the either -- what are your favorite songs from it? What are some of your favorite moments? If you're trying to -- you meet an alien -- who's going to experience this movie for the first time? They don't know anything about it. How are you pitching them on it? Let's talk a little bit more about the movie itself.
To an alien in particular -- I'm so glad that you asked the question in that way -- to an alien in particular, I would say that it is a movie that is essentially about falling in love with another culture, wanting to take ownership of that culture. And then learning that the best way to respect that culture is to let that culture exist, and appreciate it as a outsider and fan, because that is the lesson that Jack Skellington learns. He discovers Christmas, because he's bored with his ordinary life. He decides he wants it for his own. That is, in fact a lyric of -- "Oh, I want it, oh, I want it, I want it for my own." -- and he realizes that's wrong.
In the end, he realizes that he has kind of killed the joy of the thing by trying to make it his. So, he hands it back to the person that it belongs to, and apologizes, and lets Christmas happen, then. But with this new-found, "I like this thing, but it's given me a new verve for life to do the thing that is mine in a new way, and taket hat influence, but not take over." So that's how I would talk to an alien about it, if I was talking to a regular old, go ahead --
Leah Jones 47:48
It's cultural appropriation versus appreciation. Please don't colonize us, you can appreciate us without colonizing.
Exactly. And there have been a lot of people who've kind of talked about that potential theme of cultural appropriation. So, I'm not at all the first to notice this. But I think that it is a major idea of this film, that we, the world around us, we are not -- I don't know how to put this -- we don't have to take ownership of something to appreciate it. I think that's something that fandoms in general do, you can appreciate something without feeling ownership of that thing. And coming as he does from a very -- I'll just say Gothic kind of emo-kind of place of the Tim Burton ouevre -- that idea of you can dip your your toes in the water, you can appreciate from afar, and that is very meaningful to me, because I am someone who is goth-adjacent.
I could never be goth; I am too light-hearted. That's what makes this movie kind of brilliant in a lot of ways. For that subset of the culture that is drawn to the darkness somewhat, but appreciates the light just as much, so you've got Halloween and Christmas -- these two polar opposites in so many ways. We're going into the fall, the autumn, let's celebrate all that is dark about this. And then we we have -- let's have hope and optimism and beauty and sharing and and my two favorite holidays mashed into one. You got chocolate in my peanut butter, you got peanut butter in my chocolate. You can't ask for anything better.
Leah Jones 50:29
That's great. It's a way of bookending the holiday season, that I hadn't thought about stretching it that far. Because my rabbi will talk about during Hanukkah -- so there was this big debate about how you light the menorah. Do you light it -- cause over the course of eight nights, you light one candle, then two, then three, then four. And there's one philosophy that says you should start with eight candles and then seven, then six, then five, then four, because it represents -- while the oil lasted eight days, obviously it dwindled towards the end. And the other one is, that you do it one through eight to show the increasing light of the season. Because generally over the course of Hanukkah, you get into the darkest days of winter. There's the longest nights, the darkest days. But when you increase the number of candles over the holiday, you're increasing the light of the season.
Leah Jones 51:39
It's building that hope for -- that spring is coming, that the days are going to start getting longer. I think it's such a nice application when you think about Halloween, which is a goth, dark, it's a -- if you think of Day of the Dead and it's spooky season. Then Thanksgiving, and then to Christmas, and thinking about it as the whole season as a narrative arc is not something I've really thought about. The whole season as an arc, and that's really interesting.
There is a lot of debate, a *lot* of debate online about whether or not "Nightmare Before Christmas" is a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie. I would argue it is an anytime you feel like it movie, first of all. It is "It's March 30. I feel like watching 'Nightmare Before Christmas." Well, put it on -- you don't have to save it for the season. That being said, I think it very clearly is more a Christmas movie than it is a Halloween movie. The movie does feature the residents of Halloween Town, but it begins when Halloween has ended. And it is about the malaise that can kind of strike in-between the season, in-between the holiday like, "Oh, Halloween is over. Now what?" The movie's plot points are about appreciating the true spirit of Christmas. And then, which one of the two holidays is in the title? I think that's a pretty big case right there, that you could make for it being a Christmas movie more. But really, the answer is watch it every single day if you want, because it's fun.
Leah Jones 53:44
What about songs? What's your favorite song? Or if that's too hard, your top two or three songs from the movie?
Absolute favorite has to be "Sally's Song." I think in a lot of ways, a sadder song does not exist. Because the song is her essentially saying, "He will never love me the way I love him. He doesn't see me that way. And God, doesn't that suck." And it's unrelenting, honestly, if you listen to the lyrics, just like, "Will we ever end up together? No, I think not." And it is not to be, is the conclusion, and it's just beautifully performed by Catherine O'Hara and it is just heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking. And again, that bittersweet, wonderful way that we *like* to have our hearts broken sometimes. And of course it has a happy ending, because he finally sees her in the end, and what she does, and sees her for her, by the end. She is very much, she is an object as a character, she was made by her creator to fulfill her needs. And, she is throughout the film, trying to become who she wants to be and find her agency.
In the end, Jack sees her for who she is. And she is rewarded, that she gets the guy. Not that he is rewarded by learning a lesson and gets the girl -- she is rewarded for standing up for what she believes in and gets her manic-pixie dream guy. Again, subverting that that trope. That is actually something I hadn't really thought about before, but just now as we're talking about it -- kind of coming to me that I think you could very much make a case for Sally being the main character of the film. She is the one who sees from the beginning that this is wrong, and goes about saving Christmas. Jack is the one that you know has the big fight with the bad guy at the end of course, but would not have been possible without Sally. She's the Hermione Granger of the film, the one that's actually done everything, if you really stop and think about it.
Leah Jones 56:45
I think I need to rewatch it, because I didn't remember that storyline at all. But isn't there -- I know there's some -- I don't know if it was a second movie? Or I feel like there's stuff where you see her in a wedding veil? Is that in the movie? Did they get married in the movie? Or is that a different piece? Is that a sequel?
There is a different Tim Burton stop-motion thing called the "Corpse Bride" that is very much in the same vein, but it's not her. It's not the same characters, and it's not as good, if you ask me.
Leah Jones 57:40
Okay, so I had connected them -- the "Corpse Bride" as a sequel to "Nightmare Before Christmas." I've never seen the "Corpse Bride," but they're just stylistically similar, but not maybe the same universe or not the same universe at all.
There's definitely similarities, similar tones, but definitely completely different stories.
Leah Jones 58:07
Okay, I didn't -- I just missed it completely. I gotta refresh my memory.
That is honestly one of the good things about "Nightmare Before Christmas." There have been some follow-up comic books, but they've been kind of few and far between. For the most part, it seems as if people have been content to let the story stand as its own thing, and not demand a sequel -- not demand, "Well what happens next?" And I think as much, as a fan, I want to know what happens next -- where does it go from there? Like no, let it be its thing and leave what happens next to fanfiction -- to the imagination of the people who love it.
Leah Jones 58:59
And does that make Sally a Disney princess? Does she get -- do she and Jack have characters in the parks?
I've never seen that, unfortunately. I would flock to it. I know that during the Halloween season, the Haunted Mansion has a lot of Nightmare merchandise and I'm told that Hollywood Studios, the Tower of Terror Gift Shop, often has "Nightmare Before Christmas" merchandise, but I don't know that the parks have ever really dove into that as fully. For all I know, they do at Halloween. I am never able to go to Disney at Halloween -- and I've always wanted to -- because it's smack in the middle of school year. It's kind of hard for me to get time away at that time.
Leah Jones 1:00:07
Maybe some year when you get -- maybe on your sabbatical --
That would be awesome. That would be the reason to apply for the sabbatical.
Leah Jones 1:00:33
Have you done any cosplay or Halloween costumes in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" world?
I have. I want to say 2002 or 2003. I used to, every year for Halloween, have a big costume party, all my friends invited. I did it for over a decade. And basically the only reason I stopped, was that I had a child and had a newborn and wouldn't be able to have a big party anymore. But one year again, I can't remember-- it was 2002, 2003 -- I would always go all out on my Halloween costumes and spend months planning and I was kind of at a loss; I hadn't decided on anything yet.
I was at the Disney store in St. Louis at the Galleria, and they had Jack Skellington costumes. And I'm like, "Sold." And then I looked at the price tag and I was like, "Oh." It was $50, and that's in 2002 money. So, figure inflation in that -- maybe about double that for today. But I like, "I'm gonna get it; this is what I want. It's a big splurge, but this is what I want to do for Halloween." So, I bought an official Disney Store merchandised costume and wore it that year, and then the following Halloween, I found out that they were going on eBay for more than I paid for them. So, I sold it and made a profit. I was very happy that I could wear the costume once and then make money off of it. But I do kind of regret it -- thinking about -- I bet it's worth even more now if I had one. But, it would just be sitting in my closet, so it's better to have made that money and use it for something new at that time, than still have it in a closet gathering dust, I guess.
Leah Jones 1:02:45
At this point, you might have recycled it into different costumes or use the parts. It's a lot to assume you would have kept it in pristine eBay-able condition. Is there anything I haven't asked, you haven't gotten to say about "Nightmare Before Christmas?" Is there anything that I haven't asked you about "Nightmare Before Christmas" that you would regret not saying?
I guess two quick things in regards to how memorable it is. You know it came out in an age before memes, but they're little moments, little things from it. And perhaps my favorite is -- there's a, the mayor at one point, is very sad that Jack has disappeared because he's gone to find out about Christmas. Like, "We only have 365 days until the next Halloween," and the little werewolf guy pops up and says, "364!" And that gif of that character going "364!" is one that I just -- if November 1st comes around, and I have not shared that on social media, that is someone impersonating me, that is not me.
Along those lines, I'm reminded that at one of my Halloween parties of years past -- it was in college, it was a thing we did --we all chose a character, one of those minor characters. There's the clown with the tearaway face; there's the werewolf; there's several witches; all of these kinds of secondary, minor characters that only have like one random line. Then, you find out after the fact, Greg Proops voiced that character? What?
You pick one of those characters, and every time that character has a line, you had to take a drink. And if that person's line was in the song, you had to finish your drink. So, that was the fun "Nightmare Before Christmas" drinking game that we developed when we were in college. But it goes to illustrate --
Leah Jones 1:05:32
-- an incredible voice cast --
It really is. So many amazing folks in the voice cast, including the fact that Danny Elfman is the singing voice of Jack. Even to this day, I can't really tell a difference between the speaking voice and the singing voice. I know that they are two different actors, but it's an amazing thing; that's what he sounds like when he sings, and it sounds like Jack.
Leah Jones 1:06:14
Hmm, that's so cool. Oh, and he was Susan Sarandon's husband. Christopher Sarandon. I was like, Why is that a familiar name?"
Humperdinck, in "Princess Bride." It has been a part of my life from high school through college, after college, to being a dad. And I don't think it's ever gonna go away. The fact that you mentioned -- the merchandise is still such a great seller -- I think it speaks to the timeless quality of the film, that it is a classic. And it will be something that, hopefully, people will talk about 200 years from now as a piece of literature that captures these holidays and captures their spirit as well.
Leah Jones 1:07:13
I went to a very fun wedding in Las Vegas, it was probably 2003, 2004-ish, that was a wedding on Halloween and "Nightmare Before Christmas" themed.
Oh, gosh. That sounds wonderful.
Leah Jones 1:07:36
It was fun. It was a lot of fun details, like the cake topper. Obviously, it was Jack and Sally. And a lot of -- red, white, black were the colors, and the flowers, and it was an evening wedding in a courtyard of a hotel. So it's outside; because you can do outside weddings in October in Las Vegas. Or evening, afternoon/evening. It was very fun.
That sounds amazing. That would have been so cool.
Leah Jones 1:08:16
Well, I will try and do -- this episode will come out next week. I suspect if I could find the time to watch an entire season of "Righteous Gemstones" yesterday, I bet I can find time to watch this, and add some thoughts to the intro that I do. Because I think all I remember is the main two songs. Like the "This is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween" song and "What's this? What's this? Bum Bum Bum Bum Bum," which may be the same song? I think it's a different song, maybe it's not?
They are different songs. "This is Halloween" is the very first song that opens the thing and kind of the lays the background of the musical. And "What's This" is kind of the "I Want" song that sets up the the conflict essentially. So, good transition into act two, basically.
Leah Jones 1:09:22
Great. Well, Steve, where can people find you online? Or is there anything you'd like to promote?
Oh, absolutely. Most of my social media, I am @vacuumboy. And that's on Twitter, that's on Instagram, that's on TikTok. TikTok is probably the area where I've been focusing my creative content the most lately. I'm absolutely loving doing these 60 second poetry lessons, which frequently are a full three minutes but I am loving doing those and just being a goof to my 4,000 followers on there, so that's probably the best place that you would find me, is on TikTok.
Leah Jones 1:10:07
Awesome. You can find Finding Favorites @findingfavspod on Instagram and Twitter. And you can follow me, @ChicagoLeah on Twitter and TikTok, where I also recently went viral for something dumb. Which is the only way to go viral on Tiktok. This time, it was calling out some hikers who recorded a video of like six of them dancing on quicksand, like idiots. Not Gen X, I was just defending Gen X, because we want to, we would never.
Right. No way.
Leah Jones 1:10:46
And please follow the podcast -- I'm trying out Good Pods now, which is trying to become a marketplace for indie podcasts, but Apple, Stitcher -- follow and review, leave five stars. It is very helpful, supposedly. And thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you very much for having me. It's been great.
Thank you for listening to Finding Favorites with Leah Jones. Please make sure to subscribe and drop us a five-star review on iTunes. Now go out, and enjoy your favorite things.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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