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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Nightmare Before Christmas is an offbeat, stop motion-animated movie that's one of the great family films for all ages. That said, it does have scary creatures in it -- characters take off their own heads and limbs, and there are skeletons, nasty toys, and a creepy villain named Oogie Boogie. A Christmas tree even burns up. Some little kids who aren't old enough to distinguish this fantasy from the goings on at Halloween (or those prone to nightmares) might steer clear, although you can always hit pause and talk about what's scaring them. The special 3D version is identical in content and storyline to the original, but the enhanced visuals may add marginal spookiness and could further blur the line between fantasy and reality for some younger kids.
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What's the story?
Made in stop-motion animation, Tim Burton's holiday fantasy THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King (voiced by Chris Sarandon) -- a creature who is to Halloween what Santa is to Christmas. When Jack becomes bored with staging yet another frightnight for the sketchy members of Halloweentown, he wanders away from town one night and stumbles across Christmastown and becomes immediately entranced. Jack decides he needs to bring Christmas to Halloweentown and he is willing to do just about anything to make it happen -- even it if means kidnapping Santa himself. Unfortunately for Jack, his plans don't exactly come out right. The holidays just don't translate. Whether it's a coffin-shaped sled pulled by skeletal robo-reindeer to gifts that terrify their recipients or shrunken heads, or snakes that devour Christmas trees (all done in a way that isn't too scary for kids), the effects just don't come out the way Jack wishes. At one point, the military is called out to shoot down Jack's sled from the Christmas Eve skies.
Is it any good?
With a nod to Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Burton has fashioned a funny, darkish tale that pokes a bit of fun at kids' two favorite holidays (indeed, only the Easter Bunny is spared). The Nightmare Before Christmas is a magical marvel.
The movie is twisted in the way of Roald Dahl or even Maurice Sendak, are slightly off kilter. By changing the perspective on something we all take for granted, Burton makes us see these special holidays anew. And, of course, he does provide a happy ending. It's pure Tim Burton -- utterly weird and totally enchanting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the holidays are represented in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Why do we celebrate the holidays we do. What does your favorite holiday mean to you? Has anyone ever tried to ruin one of your holiday experiences, and how did you overcome that? When you get tired of something, what are some creative ways to bring excitement back into it?
Why did Jack's experiment fail? Is it fair to expect people who have done something the same way for a long time to change quickly? Could Jack have tried his ideas a different way?
- In theaters: October 29, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: October 3, 2000
- Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Danny Elfman, Paul Reubens
- Director: Henry Selick
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Holidays, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 76 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some scariness
- Last updated: December 1, 2020
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