Jack Skellington, the guardian of Halloween Town, struggles to find meaning in his life. However, when he wanders into Christmas Town, he finds something to be excited about. He soon endeavours to give Santa a break this year, somewhat foolishly, though well intentioned.
Tim Burton was inspired to create the film after seeing a Halloween display being taken down in a store, with a Christmas display being put up in its wake.
The film opens up with a view of a cluster of trees of a random forest. Each of these trees has a specifically shaped door carved into the trunk to symbolize a different holiday. The camera pans around as the narrator talks of holidays and where they come from. The camera stops on a specific tree...the tree symbolizing Halloween. The door opens and we are taken into the world of Halloween Town. "This is Halloween" Is playing in the background as the movie goes through the intro sequence, introducing you to many new character along the way. Some of the character are The Boogieman, The Mayor, "The Clown With the Tear-away Face," etc.
A flaming scarecrow with a pumpkin head is engulfed in flames until it jumps into the town fountain. Moments later, a tall, thin skeleton rises from the green ooze. This person is Jack Skellington, know as "The Pumpkin King." The entire opening is the town's way of celbrating the ending of Halloween, and after that, they immediately begin to prepare for the next Halloween.
The camera moves away from the celebrating townsfolk to a ragdoll, Sally, leaning against a tree, staring dreamily at Jack. She begins to move when she is grabbed by her creator, Dr. Finklestein, who accuses her of slipping him deadly nightshade into his meal. He begins to pull her along back to his workshop when she refuses and pulls out the thread connecting her arm to her body, thus removing her arm entirely in order to run away. Dr. Finklestein, who has fallen out of his wheelchair, shouts for her to come back, but the severed arm begins knocking him on the head as Sally escapes.
Jack's dog, Zero.
Female towns people are now crowding around Jack, commenting him on his great work this Halloween. Jack begins to back away when the Mayor calls attention to give out awards. This distraction allows Jack to slip away into the graveyard. Sally is seen sitting by a headstone in the graveyard, examining her arm when she hears the gates open. She gasps and hides behind the headstone as we see Jack walk past with a pondering look on his face. He passes a small headstone marked "Zero," and pats his leg. A ghostly dog appears and begins to float behind Jack as he walks. He continues to walk through the graveyard while singing "Jack's Lament." He sings of how he is tired of scaring people and how there is an emptiness inside of him. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
The camera moves back to Sally, who states that she knows how Jack feels. She sees several headstones marked "witch hazel'" and "deadly night shade." She picks a few plants from each of the headstones and heads back to Dr. Finklestein's laboratory to stash the plants and return for her arm. The doctor realizes she has returned and offers to sew her arm back on, all the while arguing with her about how she is not ready to be out in the real world and to be patient.
Jack and Zero are seen walking through the woods at this point. Zero is barking frantically, and in order to quiet him down, Jack dislodges one of his ribs and throws it into a nearby hollowed out tree for Zero to fetch. Zero uses his glowing nose to find the rib in the darkness and then continues to follow Jack farther into the woods.
We now see a shot of Jack's home. The Mayor travels up the steps and rings the bell to discuss the plans for next year's Halloween festivities. Realizing that he is not at home, the Mayor becomes distressed and falls down the staircase by the gate where the local band tells him that Jack hasn't been home all night.
Jack examining a snowflake.
It is now daylight and Jack is still walking through the woods. He approaches the cluster of holiday trees and notices the door marked with a bright green Christmas tree, complete with decorations. He opens the door and is swept in by a gust of wind and snowflakes. As he tumbles into Christmas Town, he is mesmerized by the snow, lights, color, and other decorations as the song "What's This?" is played.
The citizens of Halloween Town are now beginning to worry about Jack's disappearance. After claiming to have looked everywhere for their leader, the Mayor decides to sound the alarms.
Back in the laboratory, Sally is fixing Dr. Finklestein's dinner of soup. She poisons him, yet again, with the deadly night shade in order to escape. After smelling a suspicious ingredient in the soup (Frog's Breath), the doctor instructs Sally to taste the soup to assure that she has not poisoned him again. She knocks the spoon from his hand and inconspicuously pulls a slotted spoon from her stocking in order to fool the doctor. He falls for it and gulps down the entire bowl without the use of a spoon.
The Mayor is laying depressed on top of his car with the other townspeople around him, questioning where else they may have forgotten to look for Jack. One of the witches announces that she hears a barking sound. Soon, Jack pulls through the town gates in a small car, carrying large bags of who knows what.
Now that the doctor is passed out at his desk, Sally covers him with a blanket and runs off to the town meeting that Jack insisted that they hold that night. At the meeting, Jack begins discussing all of the wonderful things he saw in Christmas Town (as the "Town Meeting Song" is played,) and all of the objects he brought back with him to show the citizens of Halloween Town. He then tells the tale of Santa Claus.
Jack reading "The Scientific Method."
Now we are back at Jack's home, where he is reading multiple Christmas stories while Zero sleeps in a basket underneath a Christmas tree. He pulls out a book titled "The Scientific Method", begins to flip through the pages, and states that "there must be a logical explanation for this Christmas thing."
Dr. Finklestein has now locked Sally in her room, stating that she has poisoned him for the last time. The doorbell rings and Jack enters the laboratory, asking to borrow some equipment for his experiments. Finkelstein takes him to the lab and the camera brings us back to Jack's home where he begins to conduct his experiments. He realized nothing, even after crumbling an ornament into a heated beaker, causing it to change colors.
Sally is now seen back in her room, preparing a basket of goodies to bring to Jack. She opens the window, releases the basket, and jumps from the tower onto the ground, severing her left arm and right leg. She stitches herself back together and heads to Jack's. The doctor enters her room, telling her that she may come out if she promises to behave, but he realizes that she has already escaped and he smashes his lantern onto the floor.
Jack is now seen at a blackboard, writing out calculations. The gift basket from Sally appears via pulley system at the window, but when he returns to thank her, she has already gone. Sally sits outside of Jack's and begins picking the leaves off of a plant. The plant transforms into a beautiful Christmas tree, but suddenly bursts into flames right before her eyes.
("Jack's Obsession") The townspeople are discussing Jack's recent behavior as Jack is wondering about his obsession, still trying to figure everything out. He then sees himself as Santa Claus and states that he, himself, can do the whole Christmas thing too and even improve it.
Lock, Shock, and Barrel.
Jack now has assignments for each of the townspeople to perform to make Christmas their own. Lock, Shock, and Barrel (the Oogie Boogie's henchmen) are given the special task to capture Santa Claus ("Kidnap the Sandy Claws") with a promise to keep Oogie Boogie out of it (only to have their fingers crossed behind them).
Back at the meeting hall, Jack is giving out other assignments. Sally tries to tell him of her burning Christmas tree vision, but he ignores her and instructs that she sew his Santa outfit and then sends her on her way.
Back at the laboratory, Finkelstein is working on a new ragdoll and states "this one will be an improvement over the last one". His assistant Igor approaches his desk with the plans for the skeletal flying reindeer Jack had required him to build for his sleigh. Everyone is now working on their Christmas tasks as the song "Making Christmas" is playing as they try to make their deadline of Christmas. The camera brings us back and forth between Christmas Town and Halloween Town...each working hard to be ready for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, the henchmen kidnap Santa and bring him back to Halloween Town where Jack is trying on his Santa suit. Jack instructs that Santa take the night off and has the henchment bring him to their lair. The three henchmen take Santa to Oogie Boogie's hideout.
Sally returns to the laboratory and pulls a jar of Fog Juice out from under the floor boards of her room to use to stop Jack from going through with his idea of Christmas.
Santa is now in Oogie's lair. ("Oogie Boogie's Song") Being a gambler, Oogie plans to gamble with Santa's life because he says that gambling is much more fun with lives on the line.
The townspeople are gathered in the town square, anxiously awaiting for Jack's midnight ride to begin. Sally dumps the fog juice into the fountain, causing a fog so thick that Jack will have to abandon his plans. Zero moves to comfort Jack when he realizes that Zero's nose will help him be able to see through the fog. Jack takes off into the night while Sally hopes that her premonition was incorrect ("Sally's Song").
Jack is seen riding through the sky on his coffin-shaped sleigh and landing atop of houses to deliver gifts to the children who are unaware of the terror that these gifts hold. House by house, present by terrifying present, people are calling the police, reporting killer Christmas toys and barricading their houses from the skeletal Santa Claus. The government gets wind of this, instructing military units to immobilize Jack and save Christmas.
At Oogie's lair, Sally attempts to rescue the real Santa Claus by distracting Oogie with her dismembered leg. Oogie then realizes that the leg is fake, thus thwarting Sally's plan.
Back in Halloween Town, the citizens gaze into a looking glass, seeing what has just happened to Jack. The Mayor is in distress again as he announces throughout the town that Jack has "been blown to smithereens" while everyone else grieves for their loss.
In the real world, the police inform everyone that the impostor has been shot down, but there is still no sign of the real Santa and that Christmas may be cancelled. Jack is then seen laying on a statue of an angel in a graveyard and singing of his failed dream ("Poor Jack"). He realizes that he did his best, but he should go back to doing what he already knew best as the Pumpkin King.
Now tied up in Oogie's lair, Sally and Santa hear of Jack's demise. Jack is on his way to rescue Santa when he hears that Sally is captured, as well. He climbs into Oogie's lair unnoticed, rescues Sally and Santa from the platform, and takes Oogie one-on-one on his Vegas-style roulette wheel. He defeats Oogie by removing his outer covering to reveal his made up entirely of bugs that fall into the lava-like substance below.
Jack and Sally on the hill.
There is a small discussion and Santa takes off to save Christmas. The townspeople are relieved to find out that Jack is still alive and that Santa is saving Christmas back in the real world. ("Finale/Reprise") Santa flys over Halloween Town, causing it to snow.
Dr. Finklestein reveals his new creation of a woman to take care of him. Sally leaves the celebration to sit atop the hill in the graveyard. Jack soon follows, they sing how they are meant for eachother, and share a hug in the moonlight.