By Valerie Kalfrin
We love Jack Skellington for not staying in his lane, for that exuberance that makes this Pumpkin King of Halloween want to wrap himself in Christmas like a kid flopping into a snowdrift. But Sally, the clever ragdoll who first loves Jack from afar, gives “The Nightmare Before Christmas” a conscience and an extra dose of heart.
Jack and Sally have been bridging two of the biggest holidays for more than 25 years now. Tim Burton, director of “Beetlejuice”, “Batman”, and “Edward Scissorhands”, first conceived of the dapper skeleton with an existential crisis in the 1980s, writing a poem about a spooky fellow who wants more out of life than just saying, “Boo!” (A book version with Burton’s illustrations was released for the film’s twentieth anniversary.)
For the 1993 stop-motion animated film directed by Henry Selick (“James and the Giant Peach”, “Coraline”), screenwriter Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands”) and adapter Michael McDowell (“Beetlejuice”) followed the poem’s basic story where Jack, enamoured with Christmas, tries to share in its joy. But they added the kooky residents of Halloween Town, including Sally and Oogie Boogie, the burlap-sack bogeyman and true antagonist.
“Sally has a kind heart but endearing contradictions. She’s sly enough to dose Finkelstein with nightshade so she can slip out of his locked tower, yet nervous when gifting Jack with a potion that blooms into a ghostly butterfly.”
Stuffed with autumn leaves, Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara) frequently goes to pieces—but all by her design. Mad scientist Dr Finkelstein created her as a caretaker and companion, but Sally has an independent streak as prevalent as her stitching. She too yearns for something different. She detaches and re-attaches her limbs like a superpower, as nonchalantly sewing herself back together as Bo Peep in this year’s “Toy Story 4” patching herself with tape, another doll not content to live life on a shelf. Sally flings herself to bits to escape the doctor’s control or sends her hands on ahead to untie the captive Santa Claus, packing a needle behind her ear and thread in her patchwork dress to make herself whole again.
Sally has a kind heart but endearing contradictions. She’s sly enough to dose Finkelstein with nightshade so she can slip out of his locked tower, yet nervous when gifting Jack with a potion that blooms into a ghostly butterfly. (He’s enchanted, naturally.) Too shy to tell Jack how she feels about him, she’s still the only one bold enough to say that she thinks his attempt to do Christmas is a dreadful idea. “I’d like to join the crowd in its enthusiastic cloud,” she laments. “Though I’d like to stand by him, I can’t shake this feeling that I have.”
“Creative to see the big picture but honest enough to call out a plan that needs work, Sally’s the balance that every dreamer needs.”
Jack recognizes her creativity, asking her to fashion him a red suit like Santa’s, but doesn’t otherwise listen. This spurs Sally to take matters into her own hands, trying to sabotage his sled’s flight with fog juice and rescue Santa on her own. The fact that Jack later joins her in setting things right shows his character’s growth—and his delight in finding a kindred spirit.
Sally never says, “I told you so,” although her quiet courage and rationale win over Santa instantly. “She’s the only one who makes any sense around this insane asylum,” he says before forgiving Jack and the Halloween folks with a snowfall.
No wonder Jack seeks out his sweet friend and says they’re truly meant to be. Creative to see the big picture but honest enough to call out a plan that needs work, Sally’s the balance that every dreamer needs.