Halloween is approaching, so how about we get all lit-major on Nightmare Before Christmas?
Why not, right?
So, the other day I literally woke up thinking about the main “antagonist” in that movie, Oogie Boogie. For the longest time it’s bothered me that this character was not more developed. He isn’t even MENTIONED until Act II of the film, and after that point we continue to know very little about him except that he “eats” bugs, he’s been locked away for some reason, and Jack DESPISES him. However, we’re never given an inkling as to why he is so hated by Halloweentown, enough so that the very sight of his “boys” gives the Mayor anxiety. I feel like there was a lot to be done with that character, but in the end it kind of just feels like a cheap attempt to allow Jack (who very well should be the bad guy of this story) to have a moment of redemption by saving Santa from the very predicament his hubris landed Santa in. It’s always just felt like a tacked on character because some Disney Exec was all “hey, there needs to be a villain so we can sell toys.”
So I woke up thinking “Why do they hate Oogie so much? What’s their problem with dirty sacks filled with bugs?”
….aside from the obvious, I suppose.
Hey Chris, you just like…. woke up thinking about this? That’s not normal, dude.
Haha, normal… Good one, imaginary person I’m talking to in a pre-constructed blog post!
Let’s look at what we know about Oogie Boogie after we see him. His song (one of the absolute best villain songs period) shows Oogie giving Santa a tour of his…. lovely abode, all while draped in a fluorescent black-light glow. Oogie dances and discusses his love of gambling and generally demeaning Santa as skeletons in torture devices woefully provide backup vocals. At one point, Santa is narrowly pulled out of the way of three robotic cowboys that aim their pistols and fire directly at his Christmas spirit. We see these cowboys later when Jack returns to fight Oogie, and it’s shown that both Jack and Oogie are afraid of being in their line of fire, proving that they are definitely not firing blanks. In the final confrontation, Oogie also employs a series of traps and weaponry, from gigantic buzzsaws to knife-swirling playing cards. The whole time cackling with delight as Jack narrowly avoids injury. Oogie is eventually “defeated” when Jack pulls his sack apart…..
……….When Jack pulls a string and Oogie’s sack flies open, spilling his innards, which happen to made entirely of thousands of bugs that seem to run on some sort of hive mind as they all scream “my bugs” in unison as they spill to the floor. Many of the bugs are shown falling into the boiling liquid that Oogie was earlier trying to dump santa and “I guess we need a love-interest” into.
Swords, Guns, Torture devices, neon colors everywhere, gambling….
Why do the citizens of Halloween Town distrust Oogie?
Because Oogie represents real fear. Fear that lingers and erodes away at our core. Oogie is dread. Oogie is paranoia. Fear of things like Crime. War. Addiction. Gambling.
Oogie Boogie is hated because he represents ever-present fear of the world. The rest of Halloween Town are folk characters and B-movie creatures. They are entirely content scaring one night a year, until of course Jack’s arrogance (which honestly has a more useful role in this movie than anything Sally does) pushes them to absorb Christmas. The ghouls and goblins of Halloween have no malicious intent. They just scare to give us a jolt, to have a bit of fun. It’s even in their damn opening tune:
Tender lumplings everywhere,
Life’s no fun without a good scare,
That’s our job but we’re not mean,
In our town of Halloween.
They understand that people want to be scared, in a certain way of course. The success of the horror movie industry or events like Halloween Horror Nights are a testament to that. There weren’t forty-five Friday the 13th movies because people were eager to see Jason’s ever-developing quirky personality (I would like to direct a Friday the 13th sequel where Zooey Deschanel plays Jason, call me Hollywood, we’ll make it happen). People want blood and screaming and ghosts and demons and vampires AT A DISTANCE. We want to be scared safely because it’s fun and riveting, makes us feel alive. Roller Coasters are the same exact thing.
But what happens when the scares persist? What happens when the scares feel seriously dangerous? Then the fun stops. Imagine being in a haunted house, you waited in line for an hour or so to get in. It’s great, you’re screaming, your friends are screaming. Then a spooky man in a horrible clown masks rockets out from behind a curtain and grabs your best friend. You all scream and your best friend continues to scream. And scream. And the screams change, they move from high in the throat to low in the gut. They become less a reaction to exterior stimuli and more like screams of pain, of uncontrollable terror. And then they stop. The whole house goes silent. You rush past the curtain and it’s a single room, empty and silent. You and the rest of your group rush back through to the front of the house and find it empty. No staff, no waiting guests. A dark empty house and a friend consumed.
Not much fun, huh?
Pretty extreme example, don’t you think?
You’re not even a real person!
That’s where Oogie steps in. He is Fear in it’s deepest form. His home, the world he created himself is a testament to this. As stated above, his home is decorated with implements of torture, war and violence. He has a giant roulette table smack dab in the center and he himself constantly rolls dice. Gambling, particularly the type that involves cheating, is often associated with crime or some sort of underworld. Oogie openly admits to his cheating, making the gambling more of a habitual tick than an actual love of gambling. He doesn’t get the rush of taking risk, he just does it so gambling can be a part of who he is. This obsession is only one of many bits of Oogie’s personality that differs from the citizens of Halloween Town. Oogie is quick to anger and rage, seen a few times when people or dice get the better of him. He is also the only character shown to exhibit lust, when Sally uses one of her legs as a distraction. Yes, earlier in the film a witch and a swamp lady were swooning over Jack, but it was more an attraction to someone they admired through his talents and accolades as opposed to baseline lust.
On that note, Oogie’s true nature is best shown in comparison to Halloween Town itself. As stated, Oogie’s lair is surrounded by implements of violence, and it is true that these exist in the world above as well. The character known as Behemoth has an ax buried in his head, implying some sort attack. However, like many things with the characters of Halloween Town, like for example the child whose eyes appear to be stitched shut, this is more a physical trait than an actual wound or sign of attack. Same for the skeletons hanging from the talking tree. These boney dudes join in on the ode to scaring of “This is Halloween” wherein they jauntily refer to the villa as “our town of Halloween!” They’re citizens as well, living and scaring happily for the joy of others. Oogie also has a handful of singing skeletons, but the extent of their vocal contribution is a mournful woe as they lay broken and twisted in Oogie’s torture devices. On the topic of said torture devices, we also see things like a rack or guillotine in Halloween Town, but they are used fairly exclusively to make toys, again just being set pieces to meet the macabre aesthetic tastes of the townsfolk. Oogie however appears to have actively used his devices on creatures and thoroughly intends to on Santa, though this is implied and not strictly shown. His final act is an attempt to dump Jack’s implied love interest and also Sally into a vat of what appears to be magma.
Keep in mind that Oogie lives in a world where it is implied people are immortal. Jack sings about being dead and able to decapitate himself at will whenever he needs a Hamlet dose. The Evil Scientist is poisoned multiple times and treats it with the same degree of concern that I have when my friend Jeremy comes strolling up with Tequila shots. Thus, the magma is important. Oogie knows what it takes to kill an immortal. He has no reason to believe Santa is not also capable of surviving things like torture and dismemberment, and Sally has already shown that she’s a collective consciousness pervading through stitched together doll parts and a bad singing voice. Despite this, Oogie is certain that the magma is it for them, the big Oingo Boingo concert in the sky. Maliciousness in it’s purest, the intent to kill the unkillable for personal joy.
Intent is the key. Halloween Town scares for fun, the joy of both parties. They have torture devices and weapons to push their narratives and aesthetic. They scare once a year and then spend a year planning their next boo-fest (Hallo-po-booza? Boochella? Boonnaroo?). Oogie intends to hurt, maim and torment. He wants fear to be a way of life. I mean, he straight up says it. No lie, I know I mentioned we don’t actually hear about Oogie until act 2, but he actually cameos fairly early in the film. In the intro song, “This is Halloween” there are six “I am the _____” moments. They are as follows:
I am the one hiding under your bed
I am the one hiding under youe stairs
I am the clown with the tearaway face
I am the “who” when you ask “who’s there”
I am the wind running through your hair
With the sixth, we are greeted with what we will later see is Oogie’s shadow draped across the moon. Oogie sings:
I am the shadow on the moon at night
Filling your dreams to the brim with fright
The first five were all based around moments of creepiness. Hearing a noise under your bed. Rushing up the stairs after you turn the lights of. General creepy clown trope.
Oogie wants to be our nightmares. When we’re home and comfortable. While asleep, he wants in our minds. No sneaking up behind us, terror from within. Dread. Paranoia.
What’s really telling is how he was able to project himself onto the face of the moon from deep underground. Maybe there was no shadow there at all. Maybe we just saw it.
Maybe the Boogeyman already has us.