The Burton Conspiracy:
Part Three- A Christmas ... Miracle?
Welcome to the grand finale of my warped over-analysis of the Burton Theory, an attempt to tie three major animated films of Tim Burton's opus (Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride, & The Nightmare Before Christmas) together into one unifying theory. If you missed Part One and Part Two, then just follow those links for a slice of madness in which we establish our tragic hero, Victor, as he is seduced by a delusion which promises placation, companionship and a fulfilment of his desires. This time we reach the thrilling finale, and finally feast our minds on the actual Christmas themed film: The Nightmare Before Christmas.
|That boy has legs for days.|
Other than their stylistically similar physiques, [and penchant for pinstripe trousers] Victor's scientific vigour continues through each character. From his interest in resurrection and science in Frankenweenie, through his scientific examination of the butterfly in Corpse Bride, and finally seen in Jack’s insistence that there is a scientific method for identifying the essence of Christmas. His dog has also followed him through this transformation. His corporeal essence being returned by sparks when he is Sparky, before he degrades to ‘Scraps’ and bones, and now finally as Zero, in which there is nothing left of his physical body, no sparks to sustain it, no scraps left, nothing, only the soul, Zero.
Victor, finally fully submitting to his delusion, becomes trapped in a world in which he is King, in which he is adored and loved for the strange quirks that branded him as strange and a loner as a child. He is idolised, he is adored and respected by the denizens of New Holland, which has followed his transformation through the ages too, now becoming ‘Halloween Town’, literally a nightmarish world populated by sycophantic horror stereotypes. Nightmare deals with Jack-née-Victor attempting, however, to escape this reality as he seems to realise that the horror cannot define him so thoroughly. Jack seems eager to escape the monotony, yet the real escape he seeks is from the delusion and his own mind trapping him in a reality filled with creatures eager to worship at his feet.
|Jack, adored by all of the warped denizens including:|
Vampires, A Doppelganger (the mayor), a Mummy (child), Witches etc.
And so the narrative details Jack’s attempts to flee, to transpose familial happiness (epitomised by Christmas) upon his world- as he states of Christmas Town “The monsters are all missing and the nightmares can’t be found/ And in their place there seems to be good feeling all around […]/ I’ve never felt so good before.” [This entire sections seems infinitely more tragic if considered as a man trapped inside his hellish delusion suddenly glimpsing into other people’s houses and discovering happiness there, that there is a world outside of his own darkness] “Nobody here is dead”, as Jack sings, which is key. Jack longs for an escape from his Gothic trappings and discovers happiness and familial joy, as personified by his trip to ‘Christmas Town’. Jack attempts to affect this change, only for this new persona to be forcibly rejected by the society he is so desperate to re-join, who literally shoot him down in flames. Tellingly, after the crash, Jack sings:
“Well, what the heck, I really did my best/ And by God I really tasted something swell, that's right/ And for a moment, why, I even touched the sky/ And at least I left some stories they can tell, I did/ And for the first time since I don't remember when/ I felt like my old bony self again/ And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King – that's right – I AM THE PUMPKIN KING!”
Meant as a revelation for the character, Burton invites the audience to rejoice here, as Jack triumphantly decides to revert to his spooky ways. In actuality though, this is an incredibly tragic moment; Jack has decided to return to the fantasy, his attempts to move out tragically failing and his clear mental instability leading to an outright rejection, rather than any attempt at understanding. What first seems like a triumphant return is, in fact, a damning decision to abandon reality rather than join it, to return to the pumpkin king persona. Once this has been decided, Jack returns to Halloween Town, saves the day and gets the girl [interestingly, another re-animated corpse] and all is well again.
|"Get Back into your comforting delusion, Jack! You don't belong here."|
He is rewarded for his decision to further separate himself from the world and return to his solitary delusion. He is rewarded for choosing the self-destructive path and so falls forever into an illusion of security and happiness. Jack’s attempts to return to the world, to snatch back some semblance of happiness and normalcy is rejected in favour of the delusions of grandeur, Gothic trappings and a version of himself that has fully detached from the human, from the rejection of the world. Jack's story is that of a man trapped in his delusion, and becoming aware that something is awry. He attempts to escape, glimpses happiness, community and familial love and, in his attempts to replicate this, to join that very society and free himself, he finds only rejection. Dejected, rejected, and seemingly without hope, the man returns to the comfort of his delusion, to tragically remain in the soft embrace of his own sycophantic mind trap.
This is a story of one man’s slippage into a world that comforts him, and how this slowly distorts the world around him, until it is all-encompassing. The delusion rejects him and demands he stay at all times. It shows him his desires, then warps them and twists them to the perverse, pushing him out and pulling him further in. When he attempts to leave, he is confronted with a hostile world that can no longer tolerate the imitation of happiness that he presents to them. Rejected, the man resolves to return to the delusion, to the safety there presented, perhaps never to leave.
These films represent a boy and his dog, a boy increasingly stuck within his delusions, and the spirit of the dog that he always resurrects to help him. It is not the happy tale that each ending to the three films suggests, it is never about finding love, but rather the appeasement of a mind by a force desperate to draw it in. A sinister delusion that draws our poor protagonist further and further into itself.
This is the Burton Conspiracy. The warped and twisted tale of Victor, a poor boy destined to spend his life behind his eyes, stuck inside a delusion of his own making that seeks to trap him. So perhaps we should all sit down and watch these movies again. Not as the light-hearted children’s films they pretend to be, but as an example of something far more sinister, far more disturbing and, ulimtately tragic.
This, however, is just a theory. Thank you for joining me along the way for this festive treat, and I hope that you enjoyed the read!
Danny Southward is a third year PhD researcher in creative writing and contemporary Gothic at the University of Sheffield. His work mostly centres on metafictional and metamodern motifs. When not over-theorising, he can be found crying in a corner repeating 'it's all one film, it's all one film!' or drinking copious amounts of spiced apple. Tis the season. Merry Christmas,