The Biblical Virtue of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

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I’m a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I was one of the lucky ones who saw the film in theatres in 1993, when Disney wasn’t sure what to do with the film.  I went to work for Disney right after the film was released and remember seeing all the merchandise created for the movie at 50% off.

You see, when the movie was first released, it was not a huge success.  Oh, it wasn’t a flop per se, but it wasn’t a blockbuster.  And Disney didn’t know how to market the movie.  They almost didn’t let it be known it was a “Disney” film and released it under the Touchstone banner originally.

Maybe it’s because the characters are a little less cute.  Remember, the last three films Disney had released were The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  They were on a roll.  And along comes this film with a pretty much grey and black color scheme, creepy looking characters, and a storyline that is somewhat…unusual. No wonder they had no idea what to do with it.

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The Citizens of Halloweentown

In the years since, however, Nightmare has become a key part of the Disney franchise.  It gives all those Goths who love Disney but don’t want to admit it characters they can wear and get tattoos of and identify with.  The Haunted Mansion Holiday is one of the coolest things to happen to a Disney attraction in years, and the film has been re-released in theatres to much acclaim.

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Jack at the Haunted Mansion

But I’ve always loved this movie.  Always.

Some people ask me why.  They see it as a subversion of Christmas.  They see it as what is dark conquering what is light.  They see it as something that somewhat creepy people are fans of and wonder, “What the heck?”

But me, I see it the way I’ve always seen it, and it fits perfectly into the Disney pantheon of storylines.  And it fits perfectly with a Biblical virtue I’ve been thinking about a lot during the past month: Individuality.  You can define individuality any way you want, but the definition I’m working off of is discovering who you are meant to be so you can make a difference.

You see, Jack Skellington isn’t that much different from Simba.  Or Aladdin.  Or Qusasimodo.  Or Remy (from Ratatouille) or Wall*E.  Jack isn’t that much different from you or me.

You see, all of us are created to fill a special purpose and a place in God’s kingdom.  I don’t know what yours is.  That’s really between you and God, and if you seek His heart and direction, you’ll eventually get there.  But I know what mine is.  My purpose is to help kids and parents find their place in God’s story, to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and to help them make a huge difference in this world.

Jack’s trouble is a lot like the trouble I was having a few years ago.  Like Jack, I was really good at what I was doing.  Jack is the “Pumpkin King” and the main man of Halloween.  He is really good at making Halloween great.  In fact, the beginning of the movie points out that this year’s Halloween was even better than last year’s!  Jack isn’t suffering from being a loser–no, he actually has too much success.

Jack and I both got bored with our lives.  We thought there has to be something more.  (This longing for more, something almost every Disney character has, is actually quite godly and ingrained in us as His creation.)  For me, I wondered if what I was doing even mattered anymore.  I had “been there, done that.”  What was left for me to do?

The Pumpkin King has “grown so tired of the sound of screams.”  He’s bored to death.  (Ha!)  He feels he has lost his purpose.  So when he discovers Christmastown, he gets excited again.  Here is something new, something wonderful, and he loves the way it makes him feel.

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What's This?

“There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads!  They’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead!  There’s frost on every window, I can’t believe my eyes–and in my bones I feel the warmth that’s coming from inside!” (from “What’s This?”)

This new feeling awakens him and inspires him.  He decides that this year, he should be in charge of Christmas.  He puts the citizens of Halloweentown to work creating what he thoroughly believes will be a “merry and jolly” Christmas.  In the “Making Christmas” sequence, we watch the macabre residents of Halloweentown busy working on creating gifts for Christmas.  Yes, every single gift is horrific and scary or disgusting and gross, but they are doing their best to make what will be a wonderful Christmas.

Needless to say, it all goes wrong.  The toys attack the children, Christmas wreaths try to strangle granny, and the police are on the lookout for a man dressed as a skeleton ruining this joyful holiday.  Moments before he is shot down by missiles, Jack is convinced he’s making a great Christmas for everyone.  He has completely missed the point.

Jack eventually comes to his senses.

Santa Jack.

Santa Jack.

“What have I done?  How could I be so blind?  Spoiled all!  Everything’s gone all wrong…” (“Poor Jack”)

He sings that “all I ever wanted was to bring them something great,” and that he really did his best and it awakened in him something he hadn’t felt in his life for a long time.  “I, Jack, the Pumpkin King,” he sings, and realizes, “That’s right! I am the Pumpkin King!”

You see, Jack, like me, had forgotten who he was.  He hadn’t “discovered who he was meant to be so he could make a difference.”  Why was Jack’s version of Christmas so messed up?  Because he was trying to subvert it and make it evil?  No.  Jack–and the rest of the people of Halloweentown–could not make Christmas “merry and jolly” because that’s not what they were created to do.  Their purpose in life was to scare people.  That’s what Jack was created to do.

When Jack finally comes to the realization of who he is, I think it is safe to say that he will fully devote himself to making Halloween the most amazing thing he can.  He has discovered who he is–now he can fulfill his purpose and be all that he is intended to be.

You and me, we’re in the same place as Jack Skellington sometimes.  Until we know what we are created to do, we will never be able to fulfill our purpose.  We may already have discovered who we are meant to be but think, “That’s not important enough or interesting enough or I’ve done it so long that I’m bored.”

The Pumpkin King.

The Pumpkin King

Remember Jack Skellington.  Discover who you are meant to be so you can make the difference only you can make.  Don’t try to be what you’re not.   Be who you were created to be.

2 responses to “The Biblical Virtue of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

  1. A great analogy for this movie. I’ve always loved it too, and I also got to see it in ’93 in a theater. Great fun then, and I have the DVD now to entertain me when it’s not on cable.

    But I love the idea of being who you are and how Jack learning that opens up new possibilities, and re-ignites his passion for his true calling.

    This post speaks to a major point in my life right now as I struggle with so many things, my self-identity only one of them.

    Like another cartoon character, Mr. Wizard, used to say:

    Be what you is, not what you is not.
    Folks who is what they is is the happiest lot.

    • Thanks for the comment and thoughts. I know so many people who see this movie in the “too dark, anti-Christmas, etc.” way, and there’s just so much more there! 🙂

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