7 Life Lessons from “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas”

My family loves “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. I can remember being a young kid watching it for the first time and being glued to the screen, enthralled but also a little scared. It was a good kind of scared. I was aware at that moment that this was unlike anything I had ever seen before. My kids love it too. It’s different watching it as an adult. Like all kids movies, you pick up on things that are lost on the younger audience. I started compiling a list of things that I thought were important “life lessons” from this movie based on a poem/short story written by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick.

  • Believing in something you can’t explain. This theme is everywhere in this movie. For a long time, after Jack visit’s Christmastown, he goes a little mad. He can’t explain what he has just expereinced and he can’t name the feeling either. It is “a world unlike anything I’ve ever seen and as hard as I try I can’t seem to describe like the most improbable dream”. After tinkering with glass beakers and bunsen burners, he decides “It’s simple really, very clear, like music drifting in the air, invisible but everywhere. Just because I cannot see it doesn’t mean I can’t believe it”. This lesson reminds us to keep our child-like wonder, to never stop asking questions, and marvel at the world around us.
  • Jack could have settled for some snowfall. The entire movie, Jack is complaining about his life, “There’s an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown. The fame and praise come year after year, does nothing for these empty tears”. So he is clearly feeling listless, aimless, hungry for the next adventure, like he has reached the top run of the career ladder and wondering why he is still unhappy. In this feeling, like many of us, he makes a rash decision. He kidnaps Santa Claus, holds him hostage, steals a snowmobile, hijacks a beloved children’s holiday and then spreads demented toys and dolls all over Christmas town. He probably would have been satisfied with that snowfall that Santa Claus brings to Halloweentown at the end of the movie. So the lesson: when feeling like you need a change, start small.
  • Dr Finklestein and Sally are a classic domestic violence example. I remember being very confused by their relationship when I was a kid. Dr Finklestein made Sally “with my own two hands” and treats her very much like a daughter or beloved pet, but also treats her horribly, sometimes in the same scene! He is lovinginly mending her stitches in one scene and then locking her up in her room the next. When she tries to describe how restless she is, he uses his gentle voice to say “It’s a phase, my dear, it’ll pass. We need to be patient, that’s all!” but in the same exchange he is yelling at her “You’re MINE, you know! I MADE YOU!” This was awfully confusing for a young kid. The lesson: that is not love!
  • Listen to (some) of your naysayers. Jack is the most popular guy in Halloweentown. He is surrounded by Yes-Men. The mayor, women and children; they all fawn over him and love him. Any idea he has is treated like a gift from a God. When he proposes the hijacking of Christmas, the entire town is immediately on board (except Sally, of course). It would have proven useful if Jack had sought out at least one naysayer in order to get some constructive feedback.
  • Frog’s breath will overpower any order. Now, that just makes sense.
  • Everyone has an “anxiety face” like The Mayor. It took me a while to figure out the theme behind The Mayor’s switching head throughout the movie. Watching as an adult a very real theme emerged. Every time The Mayor is worried, fearful, anxious, or doubting himself, his face flips from the big happy smile with squinty eyes to the blue skinned frowny face. It’s in this face that he says things like “Jack! Help! I’m only an elected official here, I can’t make decisions by myself!” I think most people can identify with this kind of nervousness. It’s an interesting concept to think of your anxious fears coming from a separate face from your own.
  • Danny Elfman is a music and lyrical genius. 🙂

Happy holidays everyone!

Be well,

Annie Kendig

Published by annkendig

I am a mental health and addiction therapist in Cincinnati Ohio. Happy exploring and may all beings be well.

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