A Nightmare before Christmas

Hausarbeit, 1999

26 Seiten, Note: 2

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Table of contents

1) General information
a) Cinematographical data
b) Personal statement
c) Classroom setting
d) On the text
e) General concept(s)
f) Methods and Measures
g) Summary

2) Lesson Plans
a) 1st session
b) 2nd session
c) 3rd session
d) 4th session
e) 5th session

3) Appendix
a) 1st session
b) 2nd session
c) 3rd session
d) 4th session
e) 5th session

4) References

Cinematographical data:

Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (USA: complete title)

Runtime: 76 min

Country: USA

Language: English

Colour: Colour (Technicolor)

Sound Mix: Dolby Digital

Release date: USA 29 October 1993

Personal statement:

I saw the movie for the first time at about the age of 17, after having had approximately 4 to 5 years of school English. I remember that I didn’t understand many of the words, but that I could easily follow the story. I like the movie because of its cartoon-like appearance, its unorthodox combination of classic holiday movie features and its soundtrack. The latter is an important component of the movie, as it is declared not only a horror and animated movie, but also a musical. The story is easy to follow even if important information is transported by the lyrics of the songs which partly function as soliloquies (see: on the text).

Classroom setting:

I would set the film for students at least at about the age of 17, for students with knowledge of at least 6 years of school English. In this class, there are 21 persons. It’s a common classroom situation: 3 students who always have something to say, 5 students who are hard to be motivated because they are generally not interested and want to be left alone and 13 “ordinary” students who generally participate in classroom activities as long as they are in the mood and the topics at least a little interesting.

On the text:

The text is generally not difficult to understand, although some of the rather comic-like voices add a challenging character (to it). Thereby, the lack of accurate miming denies the possibility to read from the actors’ lips in order to clarify if the understood/heard is the word actually spoken.

Referring to the songs, the combination of the comic-like voices, the lack of miming, the speed of the songs and last but not least the poetic structure of the lyrics make it difficult to understand the statements of the ballads. Some of the ballads are used in order to express a charo understand the statements of the ballads. Some of the ballads are used in order to express a character’s emotions, mainly sorrow.

General concept(s):

Language use underlies two possible purposes. It is either taken to be brief, precise, descriptive and accurate in order to explain a circumstance or other appearance most notably, or its use tends to be expressive, creative, rich in detail and partly most fantastical. As these two features of language use happen to be both most important in everyday life, it is also intriguingly important to further/support/promote competence in expressing oneself in written as in oral language.

On the basis of these possibilities, I argue that in any classroom work you have to emphasise these features which means to write or orally produce summaries as well as prepare essays on related topics. With account to the rather creative use of language I will refer to according tasks as freestyle tasks.

I decided to employ group work (GW) to work on “ Tim Burton ’ s Nightmare before Christmas ”. I want to use two slightly different forms of GW: free and bound GW. I define a group of people who have to work together on one issue from its cradle to its grave as a bound workgroup. Students of a bound workgroup are forced to rely on the abilities/advantages they gain as a group. As a consequence, individualism counts less. Another advantage of bound GW is that by combining into people to one group, the restriction of working silently is taken from them. Its characteristics are continuous thinking, discussing, rethinking and evaluation. An obstacle is of course a possible lack of co-operation, but I am convinced the mass of impressions and emotions evoked by the film will force the students to voice their opinion. Free GW refers to a combination of individual work and teamwork. I will use this term to refer to the following procedure: First step: individual work ... second step: working together and evaluating the gained information. (It is of use, when in a first step, while working alone, any member of the later workgroup makes their thoughts about the issue and later join with the other members in order to present and compare their individual results and then to formulate a result. ) This form of GW is of advantage for the less outgoing students, because they can have their thoughts organised in silence and then participate in their workgroup’s discussion.

Methods and measures:

- Group work on possible statements for the presented themes · Interpretation of a scene by staging it
- Explaining of new vocabulary on the basis of given definition · Analysis of cinematographical means
- Discussion on predestination/destiny, Good against Evil


Tim Burton’s “Nightmare before Christmas” has a simple plot. Its protagonist is Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town. During his reign, Jack has somehow lost his understanding of his place in the world and the magic he creates with his Halloween holiday. After the completion of one particular Halloween season, Jack walks with a heavy heart and ends up in the woods outside Halloween Town discovering a grove of trees with doors to the other holidays. He discovers Christmas Town, and is so taken by the idea that he decides to take over Christmas with the help of the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween Town. There is also a sub plot about a patchwork girl who is also trying to escape her role in the world.



This session should be supplementary to normal class hours, as it will take at least 120 minutes to explain the tasks, to show the movie and to present and evaluate the gained results.

Initially, in order to focus my students attention I will give them a brief overview on what the movie is about:

“ We are going to watch an animated movie about a skeleton who is depressed by the routine of his life as a scary Halloween creature. By accidence he discovers a totally different holiday. Christmas! He likes the idea of this hearty holiday, so that he decides to take his Halloween staff to take over Christmas. It is a kind of macabre fairy tale, but as long as no one of you is afraid of monsters or ghosts, this movie will be fun! ”


First of all, I’ll put on a OHP transparency containing the themes given on the file cards (see appendix). I’ll clarify what the headlines mean. Then I’ll distribute the file cards by letting the students draw cards without knowing what theme it’ll be that they have to focus on. Furthermore, as there are nine themes to focus on, there will be two cards (respectively three in case of the following themes: “How is Halloween Town presented?” “How are Halloween Town’s residents depicted?” “What is Pumpkin Jack going through?”) of the same topic. Like this, two respectively three students will focus on the same theme.

Then I will show the movie which will take about 80 min. I will give some 10 minutes of extra time to organize their thoughts and notes.

After that I’ll have the student that had drawn the same cards sit together and discuss the results they gained, in order to come up with a bunch of keywords that they associate with the seen. If possible, I’d ask them to find a quote that could stand as the essential answer or an illustration to the question. The gained results will finally be presented in classroom discussion, in which every student is allowed to contribute ideas about any of the themes.

à See appendix n° 1 for workgroup material and possible results.


Being integrated into a free group, everybody is aimed to make notes for himself. As different people recognize different things, the density of the gained information will form a detailed picture of the featured themes and hence of the entire movie.


I do not expect each of my students to come up with every possible answer, but during classroom discussion they can compare and complete the facts and they will end up having understood all aspects of the story.



“ Today we are going to work on two songs of Nightmare before Christmas. It ’ ll be the second and the third song that are in the movie. The first song is ‘ Jack ’ s Lament ’ and we will come across some features we already discussed last time. As we know from our discussion, it gives us the initial information on what is bothering Jack. The second song is about Jack discovering Christmas Town."

1st ) Jack’s Lament:

Action [free GW]:

First of all I am going to distribute copies of the lyrics and have them prepare the text in private. Then, before giving them the instructions for the following action, I will ask them about the reference the text makes to Shakespeare (“and since I am dead, I can take off my head to recite Shakespearean quotations”), whether they can tell me to which of Shakespeare’s plays this line refers. Actually, I expect them to come up with the correct answer, namely Hamlet. If it wasn’t the case, I’d put this reference into the according context. Also, I will explain the term soliloquy to them, as this song functions as one.

Then, I will continue with the procedure, in which I will have them draw cards containing pictures from the movies. Those pictures are of no special purpose but to organise groups for the upcoming task. After the 5 groups are formed, I will tell them that they are to perform an interpretation-staging of the given text. I’ll give them about 10 minutes of preparation. In advance I’ll have prepared an order of the stagings according to the cards each group is associated with (see appendix 2). I will leave it totally to them how they want to perform it, but I will have the song prepared on tape, in case that they want to perform the scene using playback.


I’ve chosen the free GW, as any pupil can work through the text, come up with a feeling for this soliloquy and then discuss it with the others preparing the staging. The purpose of staging the text is to gain a different understanding of a text. By staging a text, pupils not only have to analyse but to commit themselves to the text and discover the emotions the protagonist have to feel, combining those with a adequate and accurate gesture and mime. It is a playful way to get an understanding of a text.


I guess that most of the students are going to feel uncomfortable about acting rather spontaneously in front of their classmates, but it is a chance for some of the students who do like acting to make use of it. For those who haven’t yet been confronted with acting it is a new experience which could entice them. Finally I expect my students to be anxious to discuss the performances. The length of this possibly following discussion will show, whether there is still enough time for the second part of this session (What’s this).

2nd) What’s this Action:

Again I will distribute the song lyrics and have the students prepare it. Then I’ll show the scene and remark to the students that they make notes about how Christmas Town is perceived by Jack.

Then I will initialise a discussion on what they think about Christmas; whether they personally agree or disagree with this perception.

Finally I will tell them to write a poem on their own (based on the manner of the lyrics) on how they see Christmas. This is to be prepared at home.


This movie-clip only serves as initial basis for the discussion. The purpose of the discussion and the further homework is what I described as freestyle task in my general concept.


I think that not many of the students will contribute a poem. I’ll collect those that are and present the best of them at the end of the sessions. Then, I will read out loud the best lines of the poems and with permission of the students I will hand out copies of the best two to four poems.



“ Today we will review a smaller part of the movie focussing on some vocabulary items which probably will be new to you. We will start with this vocabulary list of words that will appear during this session. We will work through this sheet in order to understand all the words. ”


At the beginning of this session, I will hand out the vocabulary list enclosed in appendix n° 3. At this point, the 3rd column of the list entitled “translation” will be left blank. In class we will read the lines from the left to the right - one line per student - , beginning with the term itself and then going on with the definition. As I didn’t pick the easiest definitions for the terms, it will be the case with some definitions to explain included terms (e.g. coffin). Finally, the student will be asked to present a fitting translations, which if correct will be written down.

Then, I’ll show again part of the movie (from 0:16:09 to 0:36:37). I will remark to the students to watch out for the enlisted words in which context they appear and how they are used.

Finally, I will tell the students to cover the list. I’ll have the students draw cards containing the introduced terms given on the list. They will have to explain the word they have drawn only using gestures. If it should be impossible for a student to present their word, I will give them the option to either sketch it on the blackboard or to paraphrase it in a TABU - like manner.

Furthermore, I will tell them that they names of the Oogie Boogie boys (Lock, Shock and Barrel) are a derivation of the idiomatic expression lock, stock and barrel in order to express unity. Then I will tell them, that this is only one of three expressions in this part that describe conformity. The other two are “three of a kind” and “birds of a feather”


Since I give them the vocabulary list, the students are first confronted with the new words. The definitions will mostly give them the exact idea of what is meant. To come up with the most exact definition is a task which can easily be fulfilled yet knowing the definition of the term. New words, contained in the definitions, will be explained to the students and thus of no bigger problem. This is just supplementary vocabulary which the students may remember. The task of watching the movie concerning the context of the new vocabulary serves the purpose to listening comprehension, referring to locating a word in its context. The presentation of the given words serves to use the vocabulary and to check whether already one word or another has already clung.


In this session, on the basis of the different measures and methods that are employed, there are several possibilities for students to get to know, to understand and to remember the new vocabulary they came across. Thus, all students have a chance to learn some of the words, according to which procedure is most appropriate for their language acquisition customs.



This session is dedicated not to text or vocabulary work but to the effects of cinematographical means that are used to visually underline the meaning of the text. Cinematographical means include use of colours, light and shadow, perspective and set organisation. Furthermore we will consider how music is used to evoke emotion. We are going to take a look on two cinematographically very different scenes. Again, it is going to be scenes containing songs. First we will work on “Making Christmas” and after that on “Oogie Boogie’s Song”.

1st) “Making Christmas”

Action: (free GW)

In the first place, I will hand out the lyrics (see appendix n° 4). I will ask some of the students that so far didn’t participate that much in class to read out loud the text. Unknown vocabulary will be explained. Then I will tell my students to make notes on how the discrepancy between the characters’ intention and their acting produces the absurdity of the scene is presented by cinematographical means, while watching the according scene (from 0:39:07 to 0:42:56). Finally, in order to organise the following discussing of the gained results, I will ask the students to sit in groups of four to five persons. During this part of the group work, the students are supposed to come up with one sentence about each of the following features: use of bright colours, use of shades of grey, employment of characters, use of grotesque elements, mood conveyed by music.

Each group should then chose a speaker who will present their results.


The students are first confronted with the lyrics which will give them the basic information for this task. These lyrics do not contain many new words, so that it will be easy to understand the text. The analysis of cinematographical means will make them realise how important visual data is in a movie and how it can stress important textual parts.


Some students will feel uncooperative in fulfilling this task, because they probably will not see the necessity of analysing those features. Those students will basically agree that cinematographical means are of great importance but they will disagree on analysing them. Expected results: All features of Christmas are depicted in bright colors. Everything about Halloween Town is depicted in shades of grey. Halloween Town’s residents try to make “pleasant” presents, but they fail. Music gives impression of darkness and scariness, although it also includes a jolly tune when referring to Christmas. The overall mood of Halloween Town, preparing Christmas is grotesque.

2nd) “Oogie Boogie’s Song”


I will hand out the lyrics and have the students read it while they listen to song on tape. Then I ask them whether they have any vocabulary problems and if so, I’ll solve them. I will ask them what impression the combination of the lyrics and the tune evoked and we will chat about their ideas.

Then I will show them the scene (from 0:46:00 to 0:48:31), advising them to focus on the same questions as with “Making Christmas”.


Reading the text and solving vocabulary problems serves the understanding of the text. Simultaneously listening to the music gives possibilities to listen to the text rather than to read it which serves as optional listening comprehension. Analyzing the cinematography of this scene is an activity which serves to use the previously acquired knowledge, which results in an complex understanding of the intention the scene.


I expect half of the class to rather listen to the song than to read the actual text.

The analysis of the scene will be done faster than the first one, because the students already know on which feature they have to focus.

Expected answers: grotesque mixture of gambling issues, torture chamber like room, and the person of Oogie Boogie, which is a combination of spiders, snakes and bugs. Sharp bright artificial colors make the appearance quite surreal. The music is of a very animating character but Oogie Boogie’s articulation and intonation put a certain threat in it.



“ This is the last session in that we will discuss “ A Nightmare before Christmas ” . Some of you may be happy to see it come to an end, some may not. Anyhow, I hope that you liked it at least a little. After this final task, you can tell me everything you liked or disliked when we come to the feedback part. ”


At the beginning of the session I will show the last part of the movie (from 0:48:31 to 1:08:22). At the same time I will put on a work sheet containing some keywords. (see appendix n° 5)

With regard to the whole movie and the words on the work sheet, I will ask the students to put the keywords into relation according to their impression of the movie. They can basically relate these words by putting arrows between them. Furthermore, they can put notes aside of the arrows. Finally, the students will present and thus share their impression on the movie’s themes.

The very last task for me to do is to hand out the feedback sheet for them to fill out and collecting it at the end of the session.


The last part of the movie is a total happy end including the rescue of Santa Claus, the purification of Pumpkin Jack and the discovering of their love between Jack and Sally. It serves perfectly to conclude this teaching unit.

As I ask the students to relate their impressions with the keywords on the worksheet, they are forced to organise their ideas according to the given words. This organisation of thoughts serves to come to a common ground for the final discussion.


I guess that the students will be slightly confused by the task I give them, but I will tell them to just try to find some way of relating the keywords. Actually, I think that there is only one basic result: that everything is relative and depends from the point of view. There is nothing a really bad, and nothing really good, that every being is a creature, and depending on the standpoint every creature can appear as a monster. This is the scheme I want to tell them finally, after they have sketched their schemes.


How is Halloween Town presented?

Stereotyped - freaky - scary - hometown of any twilight world creature, like witches mummies, ghouls, vampires, dark, surrealistic, comic-like Consists of a downtown, including a marketplace, a town hall, Jack’s tower, Dr. Finkelstein’s lab, a mausoleum, a swamp, and a cave and a treehouse where the Oogie boogie boys live...

It’s a agglomeration of all scary features we know from horror movies, although all residents are depicted sympathetic and not evil

Presentation of Christmas Town

Santa Claus - Sandy Claws - Kris Kringle Harmonic - Stereotypic - colourful - bright - cozy - snowy (something unknown) - jolly

Who is Pumpkin Jack?

the popular King of H-town - is obliged to organise the Halloween event - Skeleton Jack - main character of Halloween - without him, there is no Halloween

What is Pumpkin Jack going through?

Has the blues - melancholic - sick of being the Pumpkin King - identity crisis - longs for emotional thrill - falls in love with Sally - “Bone Daddy” - discovers Christmas Town - wants to take over Christmas, but fails

Who is Sally and what is bothering her?

“I’m restless”

creature made of patches, melancholic, a product by Dr. Finkelstein, alluding to Frankenstein’s creature, in love with Jack, feels pity and shares his longing, tries to prevent Jack’s failure

Who is Dr. Finkelstein?

Stereotype of the lonely mad scientist : Finkelstein = Frankenstein There also exists a handyman called Igor

“You're mine you know”

responsible for creating the reindeer sleigh

How are Halloween Town’s resident depicted?

All there is for them is to scare, to frighten and to fool around They judge everything upon their lines of perception which means in expressions of Halloween.

Quotes: “But we’re not mean in our town of Halloween”

Who are Zero and the Mayor?

Jack’s ghost dog, his only friend, he is the rednosed “Rudolph” in this game. His buddy to whom he talks in his soliloquies

The mayor is “only a elected official who can’t make decision on his own”; two-faced

Who are Oogie Boogie and his boys? How do they fit in?

Live on the outskirts of H-town, they are really evil, not only kidding; Oogie Boogie is a bag full of bugs: “gambling man”; The boys are called Lock, Shock and Barrel


List of themes:

- How is Halloween Town presented?
- How are Halloween Town’s residents depicted?
- Who is Pumpkin Jack?
- What is Pumpkin Jack going through?
- Who is Sally and what is going on with her?
- Who is Dr. Finkelstein?
- How is Christmas Town depicted?
- Who are Zero and the Mayor?
- Who are Oogie Boogie and his boys? How do they fit in?



Jack's Lament

There are few who'd deny, at what I do I am the best

For my talents are renowned far and wide

When it comes to surprises in the moonlit night

I excel without ever even trying

With the slightest little effort of my ghostlike charms

I have seen grown men give out a shriek

With the wave of my hand, and a well-placed moan

I have swept the very bravest off their feet

Yet year after year, it's the same routine

And I grow so weary of the sound of screams

And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King

Have grown so tired of the same old thing

Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones

An emptiness began to grow

There's something out there, far from my home

A longing that I've never known

I'm the master of fright, and a demon of light

And I'll scare you right out of your pants

To a guy in Kentucky, I'm Mister Unlucky

And I'm known throughout England and France

And since I am dead, I can take off my head

To recite Shakespearean quotations

No animal nor man can scream like I can

With the fury of my recitations

But who here would ever understand

That the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin

Would tire of his crown, if they only understood

He'd give it all up if he only could

Oh, there's an empty place in my bones

That calls out for something unknown

The fame and praise come year after year

Does nothing for these empty tears

What's This?

What's this? What's this?

There's color everywhere What's this?

There's white things in the air What's this?

I can't believe my eyes

I must be dreaming

Wake up, Jack, this isn't fair

What's this?

What's this?

What's this? There's something very wrong

What's this?

There's people singing songs

What's this?

The streets are lined with

Little creatures laughing

Everybody seems so happy

Have I possibly gone daffy?

What is this?

What's this?

There's children throwing snowballs

Instead of throwing heads

They're busy building toys

And absolutely no one's dead

There's frost on every window

Oh, I can't believe my eyes

And in my bones I feel the warmth

That's coming from inside

Oh, look

What's this?

They're hanging mistletoe, they kiss

Why that looks so unique, inspired

They're gathering around to hear a story

Roasting chestnuts on a fire

What's this? What's this?

In here they've got a little tree, how


And who would ever think

And why?

They're covering it with tiny little things

They've got electric lights on strings

And there's a smile on everyone

So, now, correct me if

I'm wrong This looks like fun

This looks like fun

Oh, could it be I got my wish?

What's this?

Oh my, what now?

The children are asleep

But look, there's nothing underneath

No ghouls, no witches here to scream and

scare them

Or ensnare them, only little cozy things

Secure inside their dreamland

What's this?

The monsters are all missing

And the nightmares can't be found

And in their place there seems to be

Good feeling all around

Instead of screams, I swear

I can hear music in the air

The smell of cakes and pies

Are absolutely everywhere

The sights, the sounds

They're everywhere and all around

I've never felt so good before

This empty place inside of me is filling up

I simply cannot get enough

I want it, oh, I want it

Oh, I want it for my own

I've got to know

I've got to know

What is this place that I have found?

What is this?

Christmas Town, hmm...

APPENDIX 3:VOCABULARY SHEET (for sources of definitions and translations, see references)

illustration not visible in this excerpt


Making Christmas

This time, this time Making Christmas Making Christmas

Making Christmas, making Christmas Is so fine

It's ours this time And won't the children be surprised It's ours this time

Making Christmas Making Christmas Making Christmas

Time to give them something fun They'll talk about for years to come

Let's have a cheer from everyone It's time to party

Making Christmas, making Christmas

Snakes and mice get wrapped up so nice

With spider legs and pretty bows

It's ours this time All together, that and this With all our tricks we're Making Christmas time

Here comes Jack

I don't believe what's happening to me My hopes, my dreams, my fantasies Hee, hee, hee, hee

Won't they be impressed, I am a genius

See how I transformed this old rat Into a most delightful hat

Hmm, my compliments from me to you On this your most intriguing hat Consider though this substitute A bat in place of this old rat Huh! No, no, no, now that's all wrong This thing will never make a present It's been dead now for much too long Try something fresher, something pleasant

Try again, don't give up

All together, that and this With all our tricks we're making Christmas time

This time, this time

It's ours!

Making Christmas, making Christmas La, la, la

It's almost here

And we can't wait

So ring the bells and celebrate

'Cause when the full moon starts to climb

We'll all sing out

It's Christmas time Hee, hee, hee

Oogie Boogie's Song

Well, well, well, what have we here? Sandy Claws, huh? Oh, I'm really scared So you're the one everybody's talkin' about, ha, ha You're jokin', you're jokin' I can't believe my eyes You're jokin' me, you gotta be This can't be the right guy He's ancient, he's ugly I don't know which is worse I might just split a seam now If I don't die laughing first Mr. Oogie Boogie says There's trouble close at hand You'd better pay attention now 'Cause I'm the Boogie Man And if you aren't shakin' There's something very wrong 'Cause this may be the last time You hear the boogie song, ohhh Ohhh, he's the Oogie Boogie Man

Release me now Or you must face the dire consequences The children are expecting me So please, come to your senses

You're jokin', you're jokin' I can't believe my ears

Would someone shut this fella' up I'm drownin' in my tears It's funny, I'm laughing You really are too much And now, with your permission I'm going to do my stuff

What are you going to do?

I'm gonna do the best I can Oh, the sound of rollin' dice To me is music in the air 'Cause I'm a gamblin' Boogie Man Although I don't play fair It's much more fun, I must confess With lives on the line Not mine, of course, but yours, old boy Now that'd be just fine

Release me fast or you will have to Answer for this heinous act

Oh, brother, you're something You put me in a spin You aren't comprehending The position that you're in It's hopeless, you're finished You haven't got a prayer 'Cause I'm Mr. Oogie Boogie And you ain't going nowhere


illustration not visible in this excerpt


- Which of the tasks did you like/ dislike? Give a brief comment what you liked/ disliked!

illustration not visible in this excerpt

- Do you think that you have learned something? If yes, can you describe it?
- Which task did you help to learn/ understand most? Why?
- Did you like your teacher’s way of presenting the tasks?
- Which improvements would you recommend?
- Comment:


Copy of the movie: ARD broadcast

Vocabulary definition after: http://dictionary.cambridge.org ; © Cambridge University Press 2001;

Vocabulary translation after: Pons Kompaktwörterbuch; Klett Verlag 1999

Movie Transcript after: http://www.script-o-rama.com/filmtranscripts3.shtml

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A Nightmare before Christmas
Universität Trier
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Nightmare, Christmas
Arbeit zitieren
Steffen Buch (Autor), 1999, A Nightmare before Christmas, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/107766


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