This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle. It has been reposted here with permission.
The age old debate is always whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or a Christmas movie. I personally land on Halloween, purely because I’ve never enjoyed watching movies about a holiday after the holiday in question has ended. Hearing “This is Halloween” in November doesn’t ever feel quite right. But one question we can settle right away is as follows: Is Shea Ernshaw’s Long Live the Pumpkin Queen a sweet, romantic read for anytime of year? The answer in short is a resounding yes.
The story opens immediately after the wedding of Jack Skellington and Sally, nearly a year after the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas. With Halloween only two weeks away, the couple can only take a short honeymoon, but they are certainly going to make the most of it. Jack takes Sally to the grove of holiday trees and through the Valentine’s Day door. While there, they take in all the sights the town has to offer — most of which involve sugar and chocolate — and even meet the queen of Valentine Town, Ruby. Ruby is everything Sally isn’t, and already the newly crowned Pumpkin Queen is beginning to feel the pressures of her new role at Jack’s side.
Things are made infinitely worse when they return home and Sally is thrust into a royal role she isn’t certain she wants. Everything about her is declared to be wrong, while the well-meaning, if forceful, residents of Halloween Town try to mold her into their idea of what the Queen of Halloween ought to be. Overwhelmed, Sally runs away into the woods and comes across a tree with a moon-shaped door, one she’s never seen before. When her curiosity gets the better of her, she falls into a short sleep and when she awakens the residents of Halloween Town — and all the other holiday towns — have been put into so deep a sleep she cannot wake them. The culprit is the mysterious Sandman, who escaped through the moon-shaped door and is roaming about unchecked.
Sally is an interesting one. There’s no denying her importance to The Nightmare Before Christmas, since it’s her movements behind the scenes that allow Jack to cause absolute chaos on Christmas unimpeded. But I get the sense to the team working on the movie, she wasn’t much more than a token girl and a love interest. In Ernshaw’s hands, she becomes so much more, and really lives up to her potential.
We know she’s smart, and resourceful. Booksmart and an expert potion maker. Her quest to bring down the Sandman has her using all these skills while also demonstrating true mental fortitude in pushing through alternating bouts of loneliness and anxiety all while keeping the good of her people and her loved ones in mind. She is every inch the queen she doesn’t believe she can be.
I also appreciate that in the quest to make Sally the heroine of the story, Ernshaw doesn’t dismiss her romantic nature or her love story with Jack. If anything she doubles down on it (which is always great for my romantic heart). It’s clear Sally loves Jack very much, not at the expense of her own happiness or goals, but in tandem with them. It’s also very clear that Jack loves her too, just as fiercely. Yes, he is very excitable and easily distracted. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t value Sally or want whatever is best for her. Jack Skellington, romantic hero, who knew? Not to mention the way their relationship is never challenged or in doubt. There’s no question from either of them that they love each other and are in this together.
When you watch The Nightmare Before Christmas it might seem like the focus is Jack Skellington. He’s the one on the poster, on the bulk of the soundtrack, on all the merchandise. And yes, I suppose he is the protagonist in that it’s his journey we’re on and his growth we witness. But if Jack is the main character, it is Sally the rag doll who is the catalyst for the entire plot. Without her, none of it happens. But until Long Live the Pumpkin Queen the heart of the whole story never really got her due. And though she’s had to wait 30 long years, I’m delighted to say Sally finally has a story worthy of her.
Long Live the Pumpkin Queen is available now. Special thank you to Disney Books for the advance copy for review purposes.