Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas is about Halloween objects translating Christmas objects. With disturbing and hilarious results. Simple as that. It's rather wonderful to see these stop-motion objects, magically uncanny as stop motion so often is, encountering one another so bizarrely and intimately. Burton's delightfully moody goth expressionism fits these objects perfectly and the melancholia never fails to make me smile. My favorite: Jack's girlfriend, who sews herself together when her creator rips her arms off...
The protagonist, Jack, here sings his amazement at the primordial fact of object withdrawal. The withdrawal is modulated through his puzzlement as to their telos: what are they for?
Jack makes two mistakes. The first is a real mistranslation: he thinks Santa Claus is Santa CLAWS. The second is a correlationist mistake. He gets it into his head that Christmas will be all about him, just as Halloween is all about him (he supposes).
This song, “What's This?” is as close to anything to musical comedy bliss. It's That Song in any musical, the one Eric Idle calls “The Song That Goes Like This” in Spamalot.
The OOO translation thing works on many levels here. There is the horrifying sensuality of Halloween and Christmas both—what Graham calls allure. Christmas Land is everything, in all its detailed particularity, sensual and real objects jumbled together in Burton's fantasy. So is Halloween, necessitating the fiction that these worlds inhabit different dimensions accessible through doors in trees in a strange forest.
And it is of course marvelous fun to see a death's head bursting out of a snowman and so on... Totally weird juxtaposition.