In the whimsical world of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Jack Skellington sings with excitement as he stumbles upon Santa Claus’s colorful village. This unique stop-motion animation musical, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, wasn’t always greeted with enthusiasm. Disney executives were unsure how to handle this unconventional tale.
Tim Burton, the mastermind behind “Nightmare,” reflected on those early days during a recent video call from London. He acknowledged the executives’ nervousness, stating, “Anytime you’re doing something like that, which was unknown: stop motion, the main character doesn’t have any eyeballs, and it’s all music, what’s to feel comfortable about?”
Initially, “Nightmare” wasn’t the holiday classic we know today. In October 1993, it was released not under Disney’s name but as a Touchstone Pictures title, as Disney was concerned it might harm its family-friendly brand.
Director Henry Selick, who was responsible for bringing Burton’s vision to life, understood the hesitation. He mentioned, “If they had put the Disney name on it right then, it would’ve been much more successful, but I understand it just didn’t feel anything like their other animated films.”
The film, based on Burton’s original story and characters, was a departure from the norm. It featured a lanky, sharply dressed skeleton named Jack, who sought to bring the spirit of Christmas to Halloween Town, inhabited by monstrous creatures.
During its initial release, “Nightmare” earned $50 million domestically, a respectable figure but far from the towering success of Disney’s animated hits like “Aladdin.” It seemed Disney had trouble marketing the unique tale of Jack and his unconventional Christmas aspirations.
Henry Selick initially feared that the film’s 10 songs, composed by Danny Elfman, would alienate viewers. In hindsight, he believes these memorable tunes played a vital role in the film’s eventual success once audiences embraced its unorthodox storytelling and design.
Today, “Nightmare” has achieved a level of popularity that no one could have foreseen. Its characters are featured in Disney theme parks, and merchandise abounds, from board games to housewares.
The character of Jack Skellington, who Burton considers a reflection of the fear of being misunderstood, resonates with many. Burton explained, “The conception of it was based on those feelings growing up of people perceiving you as something dark or weird when actually you’re not.”
For Henry Selick, the mania of Jack’s character is reminiscent of Mr. Toad from “The Wind in the Willows,” one of his favorite Disney characters. He said, “He gets carried away with something new and goes way overboard with his enthusiasm.”
The film marked a turning point for stop-motion animation, as it was created just before the rise of computer-generated animation. The director of photography, Pete Kozachik, introduced tools that set the production apart, allowing the heavy Mitchell film cameras to move frame by frame. This gave the film a cinematic quality not often seen in stop motion.
“Nightmare” came to life before the era of computer-generated animation. Burton admired the tactile beauty of stop motion, where artists meticulously craft puppets and sets. He found this art form to be a pure and beautiful way of making movies.
Despite some initial frustration over not receiving credit as the film’s director, Selick has come to terms with it. He now sees the film as belonging not just to him, Burton, or Elfman, but to the world. “It’s the world’s movie, and I kind of like that,” Selick said.
The film’s enduring popularity is evident in the transformation of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride into a “Nightmare”-inspired attraction every fall. Disneyland also hosts the Oogie Boogie Bash, a Halloween party named after the film’s villain, and features characters from the movie.
For Burton, this widespread appreciation marks the film’s incredible journey. “When I see that, I go back to the early days when the film was first being done, and thinking of the journey that it’s taken, this symbolizes it in a very strange way,” he said.
As for Selick, one of the indicators that the film had become a classic came when children started trick-or-treating in homemade “Nightmare” costumes at his house. He recalled their joy as they saw the original figure of Jack as Santa, which he kept on display.
While there are novels and comics that expand on the “Nightmare” universe, Burton emphasized the uniqueness of the original film. It remains a standalone masterpiece, free from a slew of sequels and reboots.
Our Reader’s Queries
Who was Jack Skellington before he died?
In James and the Giant Peach, Jack Skellington’s portrayal as Captain Jack implies he was a pirate in his past life, shedding light on his erratic behavior in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Is Nightmare Before Christmas meant for kids?
The film is aimed at kids, but it’s too spooky for little ones. Parents should watch with kids aged 8 to 12. The creepy cartoon images are even scarier in 3D and might scare kids under 8, making them afraid of getting Christmas presents.
Is Nightmare Before Christmas 2 confirmed?
The sequel to Nightmare Before Christmas is still just a rumor. Director Henry Selick mentioned in 2009 that he would consider it if he and Burton could come up with a great story. In 2019, there were reports that Disney was thinking about a stop-motion sequel or live-action remake, but nothing has happened with these plans yet.
Is The Nightmare Before Christmas about depression?
The Nightmare Before Christmas, a children’s film, explores some deep themes (even if they’re a little vague). The main character battles with feelings of sadness and struggles with questions about existence. Eventually, he discovers something that fills him with new ideas – namely, Christmas – and decides to make it his own.