As Halloween approaches, so does the slough of mildly frightening to nightmare-inducing scary movies for kids and adults alike. Both parents and their children love to pull out Henry Selick's (obviously conceived and produced by Tim Burton) classic A Nightmare Before Christmas as early as Halloween (or, even watch it year round, if they're die hard fans). But at what age is the classic spooky film appropriate? Is A Nightmare Before Christmas too scary for kids under 5? If you've never seen the film, it can be easy to press play, unaware of the potential fright it could cause your young child.
The movie is a beloved classic, but it may not be appropriate for all ages. Before we get to the nitty-gritty, a quick plot summary will be helpful for anyone who is unfamiliar with the movie. It's a relatively harmless, slightly spooky tale with a few scary undertones that may give some parents (and their younger kiddos) reason to pause. The film tells the story of the misadventures of Jack Skellington, the king of Pumpkin Town, who gets bored with his normal routine of scaring humans from the "real world." When Jack stumbles upon the much happier, warm-spirited Christmas Town, Jack schemes up a plan to kidnap Santa Clause and take the town as his own. But alas, the best laid plans of skeletons often go awry.
The film, according to IMBD's Parent Guide, is rated PG for "some scary images." In typical Tim Burton fashion, there are the standard frightening looking monsters, which are usually harmless yet potentially scary images (like the child who wears a hatchet in his head like a hat). Characters (painlessly) take off their own limbs and heads, and there is a villain named Oogie Boogie who could be frightening.
According to Healthy Children, PG ratings simply mean that the film "may contain adult themes, alcohol and tobacco use, some profanity, violence, or brief nudity." A Nightmare Before Christmas contains no profanity, alcohol use, or sexuality, so you can put your mind at ease on that front. The only concern for parents of young children under 5 years old, according to mommy forums, is the pseudo-violence and creepy images. Some mothers in the forum rushed to warm moms against letting their kids aged 3 to 5 watch it, while others claimed that their children weren't afraid at all.
However, Parent Co. lists the movie as a must-see Halloween movie for kids under 9, with the author claiming his 4-year-old was "obsessed with it". Clearly, each parent has their own standard about what their children can and can't handle, and each child's personality is able to process different kinds of films earlier than others.
When it comes down to it though, it's ultimately up to each parent to decide when their kid is ready to view movies such as these. Although Common Sense media calls the film an "an offbeat, stop motion-animated movie that's one of the great family films for all ages," it also notes that children who aren't old enough to distinguish fantasy from reality (or are prone to nightmares or general anxiety), may need to steer clear until they're older.
If you're unsure of how your child will react, consider watching the movie with them, paying close attention to their reactions and, if needed, pausing at scary moments to ask them to explain how the film makes them feel. Along with the other scary images and themes that circle at Halloween, the movie may or may not add to your child's fear of (or acceptance of) the scary images in the movie.
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