'Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems
— Santa's opening narration
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 stop-motion fantasy film, directed by Henry Selick and produced/co-written by Tim Burton. The movie originated as a poem written by Burton in 1982, while he was working as an animator for Walt Disney Productions.
In a magical place called Halloween Town, all of the town's citizens have gathered to celebrate their holiday and success after terrifying the world. However, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and most-acclaimed citizen of the town, also the de-facto leader, has become tired of this holiday and no longer sees the point of scaring people. The night after the celebration, he takes a long walk through the forest with his ghost dog Zero (who has a glowing pumpkin for a nose), where he finds doorways to other holidays. Intrigued by one showing a bright green tree with decorations, Jack opens the door and falls down a hole leading into Christmas Town. Amazed by the snow, color, and wonder he sees, Jack becomes obsessed with Christmas.
Jack returns to Halloween Town and shows the citizens examples of Christmas items. He shows them Christmas trees, stockings, and the whole routine of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The townspeople are excited, but Jack worries they don't fully grasp the concepts he's trying to explain to them. In the crowd is Sally, a ragdoll brought to life by the town scientist, Dr. Finklestein. She is secretly in love with Jack and is also awestruck by Christmas, but sees a vision of a burning Christmas tree and worries it is a bad sign. She informs Jack of her vision but he simply shrugs it off his shoulders and goes ahead in his plan.
Jack secludes himself in his lab, leaving the citizens of Halloween Town in troubled thoughts of what he is up to and if he's okay, and performs various experiments on Christmas-themed items in an attempt to find a way to explain it to his citizens. Jack's obsession escalates as his experiments fail, and he ultimately comes to the conclusion that not only could he imitate Christmas perfectly, but that he could improve upon it, and announces to the town they are taking over Christmas. Jack rallies the town to begin making Christmas presents, hires Dr. Finklestein to animate skeletal reindeer for a sleigh, and charges Sally with knitting him a red and white Santa coat. As Christmas approaches and both Halloween Town and Christmas Town prepare for Christmas, Jack puts three trick-or-treaters, Lock, Shock and Barrel, in charge of kidnapping Santa Claus from Christmas Town, but warns them not to include their master, Oogie Boogie, in any of their affairs. On Christmas Eve, everything is almost set when the three return with Santa. Jack tells Santa to "take the night off" and has the three take Santa back to their lair to keep him contained for the night. Instead, the three send Santa to Oogie Boogie, who plots to gamble with his life at stake.
Sally attempts to stop Jack by creating a thick fog, but Jack uses Zero's glowing red nose to light the way and directs the dog to the head of the sleigh. Jack takes off around the world and begins to deliver his terrifying presents with disastrous results, though he mistakes their screams for joy. A warning is put out on the news of a Santa Claus impersonator, and the citizens of Halloween Town rejoice, believing their Christmas a success. Sally rushes to save Santa Claus, but is captured by Oogie Boogie as well. Back with Jack, the military is alerted to his wrongdoings, and artillery cannons fire on Jack, destroying his sleigh, and both the police and the people of Halloween Town assume him dead. Waking up in a graveyard, Jack realizes his plans have ruined his Christmas, but is newly inspired about Halloween. Jack tears off his Santa suit and declares himself the Pumpkin King again, then hurries back to Halloween Town to release Santa.
Jack enters Oogie Boogie's lair just as he's about to kill Santa and Sally. He is able to pull open a stitch in Oogie Boogie's clothing (for his skin is made out of cloth) and all the bugs that are inside Boogie's body start to fall out, rendering him helpless. Jack apologizes to Santa, who then races off to fix Christmas. Jack confronts Sally about her attempt to save Santa and realizes her feelings for him, as Lock, Shock and Barrel lead the Mayor to find Jack. Santa Claus is shown flying around the world, giving out real presents and removing the evil toys Jack had given out. Jack returns to his townspeople as Santa flies overhead. Santa and Jack wish each other "Happy Halloween" and "Merry Christmas" as Santa brings snow to the town. The residents of Halloween Town begin playing in the snow, and Jack follows Sally out of town. She climbs and sits atop a snow covered hill, and Jack joins her singing. They sing to each other and realize that they were meant to be together. As their hands touch, they embrace and kiss as Zero flies up into the night, transformed into a star.
As director Tim Burton's upbringing in Burbank, California was associated with the feeling of solitude, the filmmaker was largely fascinated by holidays during his childhood. "Anytime there was Christmas or Halloween, [...] it was great. It gave you some sort of texture all of a sudden that wasn't there before", Burton would later recall. After completing his short film Vincent in 1982, then-Disney animator Burton wrote three-page poem titled The Nightmare Before Christmas, drawing inspiration from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. Burton intended to adapt the poem into a television special with the narration spoken by his favorite actor, Vincent Price, but also considered other options such as a children's book. He created concept art and storyboards for the project in collaboration with Rick Heinrichs, who also sculpted character models; Burton later showed his and Heinrichs' works-in-progress to Henry Selick, also a Disney animator at the time. After the success of Vincent, Disney started to consider developing The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short film or 30-minute holiday television special. However, the project's development eventually stalled, as its tone seemed "too weird" to the company. As Disney was unable to "offer his nocturnal loners enough scope", Burton left the studio in 1984, and went on to produce the commercially successful films Beetlejuice and Batman.
Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project. In 1990, Burton found out that Disney still owned the film rights; he and Selick committed to produce a full-length film with the latter as director. Disney was looking forward to Nightmare "to show capabilities of technical and storytelling achievements that were present in Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Nightmare marked Burton's third film in a row to have a Christmas setting. Burton could not direct because of his commitment to Batman Returns and he did not want to be involved with "the painstakingly slow process of stop motion". To adapt his poem into a screenplay, Burton approached Michael McDowell, his collaborator on Beetlejuice. McDowell and Burton experienced creative differences, which convinced Burton to make the film as a musical with lyrics and compositions by frequent collaborator Danny Elfman. Elfman and Burton created a rough storyline and two-thirds of the film's songs, while Selick and his team of animators began production in July 1991 in San Francisco, California with a crew of over 120 workers, utilizing 20 sound stages for filming. Joe Ranft worked as a storyboard artist, while Paul Berry was hired as an animation supervisor. In total there were 109,440 frames taken for the movie.
Elfman found writing the film's songs as "one of the easiest jobs I've ever had. I had a lot in common with Jack Skellington." Caroline Thompson still had yet to be hired to write the screenplay. With Thompson's screenplay, Selick stated, "there are very few lines of dialogue that are Caroline's. She became busy on other films and we were constantly rewriting, reconfiguring and developing the film visually." The work of Ray Harryhausen, Ladislas Starevich, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Jan Lenica, Francis Bacon and Wassily Kandinsky influenced the filmmakers. Selick described the production design as akin to a pop-up book. In addition, Selick stated, "When we reach Halloween Town, it's entirely German Expressionism. When Jack enters Christmas Town, it's an outrageous Dr. Seuss-esque setpiece. Finally, when Jack is delivering presents in the 'Real World', everything is plain, simple and perfectly aligned."
On the direction of the film, Selick reflected, "It's as though [Burton] laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn't involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like "a Tim Burton film", which is not so different from my own films." When asked on Burton's involvement, Selick claimed, "I don't want to take away from Tim, but he was not in San Francisco when we made it. He came up five times over two years, and spent no more than eight or ten days in total." Walt Disney Feature Animation contributed with some use of second-layering traditional animation. Burton found production somewhat difficult because he was directing Batman Returns and in pre-production of Ed Wood.
The filmmakers constructed 227 puppets to represent the characters in the movie, with Jack Skellington having "around four hundred heads", allowing the expression of every possible emotion. Sally's mouth movements "were animated through the replacement method. During the animation process, [...] only Sally's face 'mask' was removed in order to preserve the order of her long, red hair. Sally had ten types of faces, each made with a series of eleven expressions (e.g. eyes open and closed, and various facial poses) and synchronised mouth movements."
The stop motion figurine of Jack Skellington was reused in James and the Giant Peach (also directed by Selick) as a dead pirate captain.
The owners of the franchise have undertaken an extensive marketing campaign of these characters across many media. In addition to the Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland Park featuring the film's characters, Jack Skellington, Sally, Pyjama Jack and the Mayor were made into Bendies figures, while Jack and Sally even appear in fine art. Moreover, Sally was made into an action figure and a Halloween costume. Jack is also the titular character in the short story "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack's Story".
Oddly enough, Jim Edwards actually contends that "Tim Burton's animated movie The Nightmare Before Christmas is really a movie about the marketing business. The movie's lead character, Jack Skellington, the chief marketing officer (CMO) for a successful company decides that his success is boring and he wants the company to have a different business plan."
- Credited Songs
- Original Songs (uncredited)
- "This is Halloween"
- "Jack's Lament"
- "What's This?"
- "Town Meeting Song"
- "Jack's Obsession"
- "Kidnap the Sandy Claws"
- "Making Christmas"
- "The Oogie Boogie Song"
- "Sally's Song"
- "Poor Jack"
- "The Finale"
The film's soundtrack album was released in 1993 by Walt Disney Records. For the film's 2006 re-release, a special edition of the soundtrack was released, featuring a bonus disc which contained covers of five of the film's songs by Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, and She Wants Revenge. Four original demo tracks by Elfman were also included.
In celebration of the film's 15th anniversary, on September 30, 2008, Disney released a cover album titled Nightmare Revisited, featuring artists such as Amy Lee, Flyleaf, Korn, Rise Against, Plain White T's, and the All-American Rejects.
Walt Disney Pictures decided to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner because they thought the film would be "too dark and scary for kids", Selick remembered. "Their biggest fear, and why it was kind of a stepchild project, [was] they were afraid of their core audience hating the film and not coming." To help market the film, "it was released as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," Burton explained. "But it turned more into more of a brand-name thing, it turned into something else, which I'm not quite sure about." The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 9.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was met with critical and financial success. Disney has reissued the film annually under their Disney Digital 3-D format since 2006, being the first stop-motion animated feature to be entirely converted to 3-D.
With successful home video sales, The Nightmare Before Christmas achieved the ranks of a cult film. Touchstone Pictures released the film on DVD for the first time on December 3, 1997.
The film was released on DVD again on October 3, 2000, this time as a "special edition" DVD release. This release included an audio commentary by director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, a 28-minute making-of documentary, a gallery of concept art and storyboards, test footage, and deleted scenes. Burton's films Vincent and Frankenweenie were also included as bonus features.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released the film on DVD (again) and on Blu-ray (for the first time) on August 26, 2008, as a two-disc digitally remastered "collector's edition." Disney later released the film on Blu-ray 3D on August 30, 2011. This release was a 4-disc combo pack including a Blu-ray 3D disc, Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital copy of the film. For the film's 20th anniversary, Disney released new Blu-ray/DVD and Blu-ray 3D/DVD/Digital Copy combo packs of the movie on September 10, 2013.
In 2001, Walt Disney Pictures began to consider producing a sequel, but rather than using stop motion, Disney wanted to use computer animation. Burton convinced Disney to drop the idea. "I was always very protective of Nightmare not to do sequels or things of that kind," Burton explained. "You know, 'Jack visits Thanksgiving world' or other kinds of things just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it... Because it's a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it." In 2009, Selick said he would do a film sequel if he and Burton could create a good story for it.
In 2005, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge, a sequel game developed by Capcom, was released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Another game, a prequel titled The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King, was developed by Tose Co., Ltd. and was released for the Game Boy Advance around the same time. Characters from the film have also had prominent roles in Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts role-playing game series. In the majority of these games, Jack acts as a partner to the main character, Sora. A Jack Skellington figure was also released for use with Disney Infinity.
At Halloween, Disneyland decorates its streets in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, and the Haunted Mansion attraction is redesigned with characters from the movie. This version of the attraction is called the Haunted Mansion Holiday, and remains in operation through Christmas. It takes ride goers on a what-if adventure of if Jack, as "Sandy Claws," had visited the Haunted Mansion on Christmas Eve, leaving holiday chaos in his wake.
|Chris Sarandon||Jack Skellington (speaking)|
|Danny Elfman||Jack Skellington (singing)|
Clown with the Tear-Away Face
|William Hickey||Dr. Finklestein|
|Glenn Shadix||The Mayor of Halloween Town|
|Ken Page||Oogie Boogie|
|Ed Ivory||Santa Claus|
|Susan McBride||Big Witch|
|Debi Durst||Corpse Kid|
|Greg Proops||Harlequin Demon|
- Disney Wiki: The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Tim Burton Wiki: The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Henry Selick Wiki: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Halloween Specials Wiki: The Nightmare Before Christmas
- The Nightmare Before Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- The Nightmare Before Christmas at RetroJunk.com
- The Nightmare Before Christmas at TV Tropes
- Nightmare Before Christmas fansite
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