Nightmare Before Christmas: Why Halloween Town’s Mayor Has Two Faces

In Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion animation film The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick, the Mayor of Halloween Town has two faces, one on each side of his head. His head swivels around on his neck to display either a happy or sad expression. While this feature of the Mayor is never directly explained in the film, it is used frequently for comedic effect and to highlight changes in the Mayor’s moods.

The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, as he rediscovers his passion for Halloween through a ham-handed exploration of Christmas. The entire population of Halloween Town, including the two-faced Mayor, are swept along in Jack’s disastrous enthusiasm for Christmas. The Mayor ostensibly assists in the administration of Halloween Town and the town’s efforts to create Halloween each year.

Much like the Batman villain Harvey Dent/Two-Face, the Mayor’s two faces are a reference to a common perception that politicians are two-faced. Movies aimed at children often include jokes meant for the adults watching the film, and this is one instance of that phenomenon in The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is further supported by further sly jokes based on tropes about shady and two-faced politicians included in the film through the characterization of the Mayor.

Why The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Humor Still Holds Up

The Mayor and his antics in The Nightmare Before Christmas are a long-running gag about politicians that still feels relevant today. While the two-faced character design is never pointed out as a reference to suspect politicians, it is obvious to the target of the joke, the adults watching the film. The persistence of frustrations with perceived political inaction, excuses, and changes in position on important issues is illustrated by the continued relevance of political cartoons from past decades. In other words, the two-faced Mayor would still work if The Nightmare Before Christmas 2 ever happens.

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The Mayor’s best-known quote from The Nightmare Before Christmas, “I’m only an elected official here, I can’t make decisions by myself!” still amuses audiences because it pokes fun at the tendency of some politicians to pass the buck when they are unable to make changes desired by or promised to their electorate. Quite often, they say one thing but do another, promising the world during their campaigns but proving largely ineffective once in office. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Mayor’s immediate need to start plans for next Halloween the day after Halloween can be read as this kind of selfish focus on winning elections and campaigning, as Halloween planning is the only visible engagement of the citizens of Halloween Town until Jack introduces them to Christmas.

Only Sally, the heroine in The Nightmare Before Christmas and the sequel novel Long Live the Pumpkin Queen, is the citizen among Halloween Town’s denizens to understand the nuances of the challenges that come with accomplishing goals or changes in systems. Because such complexities do not make for good comedy and are not significant to the plot of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Mayor embodies the idea of an inept politician, wailing and swiveling to his depressed face instead of stepping up to lead in Halloween Town’s hour of need after it appears Jack has been blown to smithereens.

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