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The Ending Of The Nightmare Before Christmas Explained

October 29, 1993 was the day Jack Skellington and his friends brought their scare-tacular brand of holiday cheer to screens — and plenty of screams – everywhere in "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The movie's many fans might remember watching as if it were just yesterday, as it's become one of the rare holiday classics that's perfect for both Halloween and Christmas.

While the world of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" has been revisited a few times since in video games, books, and manga, there's never been a second movie that's followed up on the first film's ending. After all, Tim Burton, who produced the movie and wrote the poem that inspired it, has said to MTV that it's something he has no intention of pursuing. Given how the film wraps, or rather, gift wraps its story up in a nice bow, Burton's position is understandable. Yet even all these years later, it's still worth revisiting the film's final moments and breaking down just where it left things for "Nightmare's" haunting and jolly cast.

Alone no more

Despite the rousing Halloween celebration that kicks off the movie, Jack Skellington, Halloween Town's Pumpkin King, can't help but feel dissatisfied by its repetitive nature. Furthermore, as he explains in the song "Jack's Lament," he feels completely alone in his frustrations, confiding his feelings only to his pet ghost dog, Zero. Unbeknownst to Jack and Zero, however, Sally, the living doll, overhears Jack's lamentations while hidden, and feels an instant kinship. Like Jack, Sally also desires to experience something new — in her case, freedom from her possessive creator, Dr. Finkelstein.

While Sally doesn't reveal her presence or her growing romantic feelings in that moment, Jack deciphers the latter for himself after rescuing her and Santa Claus from Oogie Boogie. Realizing Sally had tried to free Santa before becoming Oogie's captive herself as a means to aid Jack, the Pumpkin King catches up to Sally on Spiral Hill, where the two express what's in their hearts through song. In doing so, both characters have not just gained a romantic partner, but a confidante whom they can relate their innermost thoughts to. In the past, Jack might have feared expressing such feelings like his boredom over Halloween, which could have thrown the beloved town he governs into something of a panic. Yet now, he has someone he can be completely honest with, while Sally's gained someone she doesn't have to tiptoe around, as she does with Finkelstein.

Sally the Pumpkin Queen

Like Jack, Sally's also not all that thrilled with her lot in life at the start of the film. She longs for independence but is constantly denied it by Finkelstein, who claims he doesn't believe she is prepared for life outside his watchful eye. As a result, Sally often tries poisoning him with deadly nightshade so she can make a getaway. Inevitably, however, Finkelstein nearly always tracks her down. 

Luckily, however, one of Sally's escape attempts finally bears fruit. Furthermore, her entering a relationship with Jack at the end of the movie comes with quite a few perks. It pretty much ensures that Finkelstein will no longer take her back to his laboratory, as the scientist considers Skellington a friend and likely wouldn't want to incur the King of Halloween Town's wrath. Yet it also means that Sally may end up becoming the Pumpkin Queen and thus royalty herself, giving her as much power over Finkelstein and the rest of the townsfolk as Jack has. Interestingly, the possibility of Sally becoming the new Halloween Town royal has been explored in the young adult novel "Long Live the Pumpkin Queen" by Shea Ernshaw, complete with visits to Valentine's Town and a place unique to the book, Dream Town.

Love for Dr. Finkelstein

Sally and Dr. Finkelstein's arguments often resemble that of a daughter wanting move out of the house and a father who simply doesn't approve. Yet rather than offer the support one might expect from a paternal figure, Finkelstein treats Sally as little more than a servant, and keeps her cooped up in his lab as a prisoner.

While Finkelstein is at first persistent in tracking Sally down after each escape attempt, his patience eventually wears thin after repeated deadly nightshade poisonings. Thus when Sally flees to see Jack, an irate Finkelstein decides to direct his attention elsewhere and create a new, more cooperative companion. Rather than create another doll to serve as a replacement "surrogate daughter" figure, however, Finkelstein instead makes himself a lover, inserting half of his own brain into her cranium. The end result, Jewel, appears with Finkelstein in the movie's last few moments, and it's clear the two are in love — after all, the two are literally of one mind about most, if not all things. Their relationship is actually a pretty important one as far as Sally is concerned, as Finkelstein is likely too happy with Jewel to renew his efforts to recapture his earlier creation. It goes to show that being in love with yourself sometimes can be a good thing.

Boogie no more

As the citizens of Halloween Town note early on, most of them aren't bad people. A notable exception, of course, is Oogie Boogie, the town's gambling Boogie Man who just loves getting up to no good. Against Jack's orders, Lock, Shock, and Barrel, three trick-or-treaters who routinely carry out tasks for Oogie, drop Santa Claus into their boss' lair, where Oogie begins to mock and toy with him. Eventually, Sally also ends up Oogie's prisoner when her attempt to secretly free Santa goes south. Fortunately, Jack arrives and defeats Oogie by literally taking his nemesis' fabric body apart.

While it's never stated just how far Oogie's nefarious reach extends, it's clear he's something of a power player in Halloween Town. Could Oogie's demise have further reaching repercussions than the film lets on? Perhaps other ne'er-do-wells lurk in Jack's haunted little town, eager to fill the void Oogie's absence might have created. Or, as Oogie is basically a giant piece of fabric controlled by worms and insects, who's to say the surviving bugs can't come back with reinforcements someday in a new "Oogie" suit? The video game "Oogie's Revenge," in fact, suggests that bringing back Oogie may be as simple as stitching his old body back together. 

The world recovers

Though well-meaning, Jack's attempts to introduce an "improved" version of Christmas ends up bringing way more terror than joy to the world at large. Luckily, the Earth's populace quickly realizes that Santa Claus is not the one behind all the horrifying presents they've been receiving, meaning Santa's glowing reputation is likely to remain intact. Thus when Santa proclaims he'll take it upon himself to straighten out Jack's unintentional mess, his chances of succeeding seem pretty high.

Or do they? While the people of Earth's faith in Santa seems unshaken, they likely won't soon forget the terror they experienced, as Jack himself speculates in the song "Poor Jack." After all, it's unlikely anyone outside of Halloween Town has ever experienced anything quite like what the Pumpkin King's put them through. The people whose houses Jack dropped presents off in could very well have nightmares for years to come, and their hearts may skip — or even leap — a beat the next few times they hear Santa coming down a chimney. Without intending to, Jack has introduced a new kind of fear to the "real world," and it's hard to say if its people will ever truly get over it. 

The Holiday Doors stay closed

The event that kicks off Jack's adventure in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is his discovery of the Holiday Doors, each of which leads to a town completely centered around a single holiday. When Jack opens the door to Christmas Town, the Pumpkin King is so taken by the new realms he encounters that he decides Halloween Town should try its own hand at "making Christmas."

Jack learns the hard way, however, that it's not so easy for the people from a place as radically different as Halloween Town to understand what people truly want out of Christmas Town's signature holiday. Yet despite being blasted out of the sky by military weaponry, Jack still gets what he wants out of playing "Sandy Claws," having gotten over his heavy case of Halloween ennui. Given his newfound appreciation for the holiday he's presided over for so many years, it seems unlikely that Jack will explore another holiday town on the silver screen, especially given Tim Burton's misgivings over a "Nightmare Before Christmas" sequel. Of course, that could always change, and Jack, along with Sally and Zero, have visited other holiday-themed locales in the aforementioned "Long Live the Pumpkin Queen" book. Alternately, Sally could explore some holiday worlds on her own, as could Zero, whom "Nightmare" director Harry Sellick tells Collider would be a perfect lead character for a follow-up short. After all, Jack's faithful pup does have his own comic book.

Oogie's kid associates reform

Lock, Shock, and Barrel sure seem willing to do some pretty twisted things to Santa Claus when Jack tasks them with bringing Christmas Town's most prominent gift giver to Halloween Town. While they ultimately decide to just trap Santa in a bag, they still end up performing the pretty naughty deed of handing Santa over to Oogie — something Jack specifically told them not to do. Yet there's something inherently endearing about those rotten little tykes, and sure enough, they actually double-cross Oogie by taking Halloween Town's Mayor to Jack after Oogie's vanquished. Indeed, the kids seemingly put their naughty ways behind them, even playfully throwing a snowball at Jack when Santa makes it snow in Halloween Town.

It seems all Lock, Shock, and Barrel needed to turn over a new leaf was for someone to get their scheming role model out of the picture. Whether the three have reformed for good may never be known, although the "Oogie's Revenge" video game does depict them as having reverted to their mischievous ways. It's not too clear whether the game is "canon" to the film, but either way, Jack may still want to keep an eye on the young ex-troublemakers the next time they meet. 

Halloween Town's nebulous future

There's no doubt that the people of Halloween Town love Jack. Whenever he's in danger, they panic or mourn him, and when he turns up alright, they celebrate his resurgence. Sure enough, when Jack reunites with the Halloween Town locals after being shot down in the Real World, his subjects are so ecstatic, they break out into song.

Yet Jack's brief foray into Christmas festivities does raise questions regarding what's next for him and his hometown. Are the residents of Halloween Town still as trusting as they used to be toward Jack, especially after he's had them put so much time and effort into preparing a holiday that didn't go as planned? Do they worry that Jack might once again face another existential crisis in a later Halloween and come up with another ill-fated scheme to keep things fresh? And how might future Halloweens be impacted by Jack's experiences in Christmas Town? Perhaps the Halloween Town monarch might incorporate some Christmas elements into his next Halloween celebration like handing out gifts in addition to candy, which the Halloween Townies may certainly appreciate.

Two holidays for Halloween Town?

Then again, why just celebrate one holiday? Sure, Jack's home is literally called Halloween Town, but 365 days is a long time to plan an event that lasts a single night. Perhaps Jack can dedicate some of those days to reviving his version of Christmas so that the people of Halloween Town can enjoy it this time around. Though it may have flopped in other parts of the world, Jack's X-Mas would be an undeniable hit in the town that helped him create it, and it'd likely keep Jack's feelings of monotony over Halloween from returning. Perhaps Jack can even consult the town's premiere scientist, Dr. Finkelstein, about how to make it snow again in Halloween Town.

It's worth noting too that instating two holidays in Halloween Town could lead to further "cross-pollination" of holidays in the future. As "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is said to have taken place "a long time ago, longer now than it seems," Jack's experiences in Christmas Town could lead to all the towns mingling more and adopting elements of one another's holidays. After all, there has to be a reason why pumpkin pie's a popular dessert on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, doesn't there?

Mrs. Claus and the elves can breathe easy

Those familiar with Claus lore may not be surprised to hear that Santa's not alone in his home when he's abducted by Lock, Shock, and Barrel. Shortly before Santa's taken away, Mrs. Claus can be seen in the kitchen putting a pie away in a lunch pail, possibly as a snack Santa can enjoy during his worldwide gift-giving tour. While Mrs. Claus' reaction isn't shown, no doubt the sudden disappearance of her husband gives her quite a shock, especially since moments earlier he'd been reading his famed Naughty or Nice list aloud in the next room.

As Jack frees Santa from captivity, the Claus couple can finally have their loving reunion. Similarly, Santa's dutiful elves, who are shown busily preparing the many toys their boss plans to pass around the world, will likely be happy to see their boss return to distribute the gifts they worked hard on. The fact that Santa's final scene in the movie shows him flying across Halloween Town with his trusty reindeer even suggests that such reunions have already happened, as the only way Santa could have reunited with his four-legged sleigh guides is if he'd already gone back to Christmas Town. 

Santa's got his work cut out for him

Sure, Santa's well practiced in handing out presents to well-behaved people all around Earth in a single evening. Yet after the mess Jack made, chances are Santa's going to take at least a little longer than usual. Not only does Santa have to give the right gifts to everybody who's qualified as nice, but he also has to get rid of all the presents Jack gave them. While some of those gifts are simply scary-looking to their recipient, a lot of them tend to be borderline, if not outright dangerous. Snake-eating Christmas trees, toothy toy ducks on wheels that chase kids around, and carnivorous-looking reefs are just some of the "goodies" Jack leaves behind, and are probably going to take at least some of Santa's magic — and maybe even a little help from the authorities — to deal with.

Not that Santa seems worried. As he tells Jack when the Pumpkin King wonders if any time's left to salvage the holiday, "Of course there is! I'm Santa Claus!" Perhaps that same self-confidence is what's helped Santa successfully complete his yearly global journey in a single evening for so many years. Though time zone differences may have also helped.