The Nightmare Before Christmas originated in a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982, while he was working as a Disney animator. With the success of Vincent in the same year, Disney started to consider developing The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short film or 30-minute television special. Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project, and in 1990, Burton and Disney made a development deal. Production started in July 1991 in San Francisco. 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". This happened in the original 1993 release only, as Walt Disney Pictures owned the movie since its 3D reissue.
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.
Halloween Town, is a dream world filled with citizens such as deformed monsters, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, vampires, werewolves and witches. Jack Skellington ("The Pumpkin King") leads them in a frightful celebration every Halloween, but he has grown tired of the same routine year after year. Wandering in the forest outside the town center, he accidentally opens a portal to "Christmas Town." Impressed by the feeling and style of Christmas, Jack presents his findings and his (somewhat limited) understanding of the festivities to the Halloween Town residents. They fail to grasp his meaning and compare everything he says to their idea of Halloween. He reluctantly decides to play along and announces that they will take over Christmas.
Jack's obsession with Christmas leads him to usurp the role of Santa Claus. Every resident is assigned a task, while Sally, a rag doll woman who is created by the town's mad scientist, begins to feel a romantic attraction towards Jack. However, she alone fears that his plans will become disastrous. Jack assigns Lock, Shock, and Barrel a trio of mischievous children, to abduct Santa and bring him back to Halloween Town. Against Jack's wishes and largely for their amusement, the trio deliver Santa to Oogie Boogie, a gambling-addict bogeyman who plots to play a game with Santa's life at stake.
Christmas Eve arrives and Sally attempts to stop Jack with fog, but he embarks into the sky on a coffin-like sleigh pulled by skeletal reindeer, guided by the glowing nose of his ghost dog Zero. He begins to deliver presents to children around the world, but the gifts (shrunken heads, Christmas tree-eating snakes, etc.) only terrify the recipients. Jack is believed to be an imposter attempting to imitate Santa, and the military goes on alert to blast him out of the sky. The sleigh is shot down and he is presumed dead by Halloween Town's citizens, but in fact he has survived the crash, landing in a cemetery. Although he is depressed by the failure of his plan, he quickly regains his old spirit, having come up with new ideas for next Halloween. He then rushes back home to rescue Santa and put things right.
Meanwhile, Sally attempts to free Santa, but is captured by Oogie. Jack slips into the lair and frees them, then angrily confronts Oogie. Almost immediately, Oogie springs a surprise trap on Jack by stomping a spider-shaped button. Some metal playing cards pop up, notably the Kings of each suit, but their swords begin to spin madly. Oogie is able to outrun the swords, but Jack is able to follow suit by twisting and contorting his body around the swords. Oogie then hits another button, and three robotic cowboys with skulls for heads fire revolvers at Jack, but he merely jumps on top of the arm of the robots and balances himself out. Oogie realizes he himself is getting to close to the line of fire. He lunges for a third button and hits it, but his sack begins to unravel. The button Oogie hit sends a giant buzzsaw with a skeleton stuck on it towards Jack. He jumps off the robot cowboy arms just in time. Oogie flings himself on top of the spinning claw, trying to flee. Jack, however, angrily yanks on the loose thread, which unravels Oogie's outer covering, spilling out all the bugs that live inside him. A majority of the bugs proceeds to fall into the lava vat where Sally and Santa were supposed to fall in, while others managing to evade destruction.
With Oogie gone, Santa reprimands Jack before setting off to deliver the right presents to the world's children. He makes snow fall over Halloween Town to show that there are no hard feelings between himself and Jack; the townspeople are confused by the snow at first, but soon begin to play happily in it. After seeing the doctor with his new creation, Jack spies Sally heading out to the graveyard and follows her there. After Sally comes to short stop on top of the graveyard's big hill, Jack reveals that he is just as strongly romantically attracted to Sally as she is to him. As they admit their love, they embrace each other and they kiss under the full moon in the cemetery.
- Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington: A skeleton known as the "Pumpkin King" of Halloween Town. He owns a ghost dog named Zero, who has a small, glowing jack-o'-lantern nose.
- Catherine O'Hara as Sally: A rag doll-like creation of Finklestein and the growing love interest of Jack who uses Atropa belladonna to escape detection from Finklestein. O'Hara also provided the voice of Shock. Burton previously worked with O'Hara on Beetlejuice (1988).
- William Hickey as Dr. Finkelstein: A mad scientist and the "father" of Sally.
- Glenn Shadix as Mayor of Halloween Town: An enthusiastic leader who conducts town meetings. His wild mood swings from happy to distraught causes his head to spin between a "happy" and "sad" face. Burton had also previously worked with Shadix on Beetlejuice.
- Ken Page as Oogie Boogie: A villainous bogeyman in Halloween Town who has a passion for gambling.
- Ed Ivory as Santa Claus: The leader of Christmas Town. Santa Claus is responsible for the annual celebration of Christmas, at which time he delivers presents to children around the world.
- Paul Reubens as Lock. Reubens previously worked with Burton on Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Batman Returns (1992).
- Joe Ranft as Igor
- Tony Jay as The Grim Reaper
- Greg Proops as The Devil
- Glenn Walters as Wolfman
The cast also features Kerry Katz, Randy Crenshaw, Debi Durst, Sherwood Ball, and Greg Proops voicing various characters. Patrick Stewart recorded narration for a prologue and epilogue; while not used in the final film, the narration is included on the soundtrack album.
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 television specials of 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 in 1982, 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 Nightmares 10 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 he [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 Animation Studios 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 synchronized 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 featuring the film's characters, Jack Skellington, Sally, Pajama Jack and the Mayor have been made into Bendies figures, while Jack and Sally even appear in fine art. Moreover, Sally has been 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."
- Main article: The Nightmare Before Christmas (soundtrack)
The film's soundtrack album was released in 1993 on Walt Disney Records. For the film's 2006 re-release in Disney Digital 3-D, 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. On September 30, 2008, Disney released the cover album Nightmare Revisited, featuring artists such as Amy Lee, Flyleaf, Korn, Rise Against, Plain White T's, The All-American Rejects, and many more. American gothic rock band London After Midnight featured a cover of "Sally's Song" on their 1998 album Oddities. LiLi Roquelin did a French cover of "Sally's Song" which was released on her album Will you hate the rest of the world or will you renew your life? in 2010.
Another soundtrack released in 2003 was the Disneyland Haunted Mansion Holiday CD. Although most were not original songs from the movie, one song provided on the CD is a medley of "Making Christmas", "What's This?", and "Kidnap the Sandy Claws". Other songs included are original holiday songs changed to incorporate the theme of the movie. The last song on the list, however, is the soundtrack for the Disneyland Haunted Mansion Holiday ride.
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.
- Main article: The Nightmare Before Christmas (video)
With successful home video sales, Nightmare achieved the ranks of a cult film. Buena Vista Home Entertainment first released the film on DVD in December 2, 1997. It contained no special features. Nightmare was released a second time in October 2000 as a special edition. The release included an audio commentary by Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, a 28-minute making-of documentary, a gallery of concept art, storyboards, test footage and deleted scenes. Burton's Vincent and Frankenweenie were also included. Both DVDs were non-anamorphic widescreen releases.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released the film on DVD (again, this time with an anamorphic transfer) and on Blu-ray Disc (for the first time) in August 2008 as a two-disc digitally remastered "collector's edition", but still containing the same special features.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released The Nightmare Before Christmas on Disney Blu-ray 3D on August 30, 2011. The release is a 3-disc combo pack including a Blu-ray 3D disc, Blu-ray Disc and a DVD that includes both a DVD and digital copy of the film.
The film has gone on to receive overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. Based on 72 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 96% of the critics enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas with the consensus of "a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation." By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 77/100, based on 16 reviews. Roger Ebert gave a highly positive review for Nightmare. Ebert believed the film's visual effects were as revolutionary as Star Wars, taking into account that Nightmare was "filled with imagination that carries us into a new world".
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it a restoration of "originality and daring to the Halloween genre. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. ... It's 74 minutes of timeless movie magic." James Berardinelli stated "The Nightmare Before Christmas has something to offer just about everyone. For the kids, it's a fantasy celebrating two holidays. For the adults, it's an opportunity to experience some light entertainment while marveling at how adept Hollywood has become at these techniques. There are songs, laughs, and a little romance. In short, The Nightmare Before Christmas does what it intends to: entertain." Desson Thomson of The Washington Post enjoyed stylistic features in common with Oscar Wilde, German Expressionism, the Brothers Grimm and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Michael A. Morrison discusses the influence of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the film, writing that Jack parallels the Grinch and Zero parallels Max, the Grinch's dog. Philip Nel writes that the film "challenges the wisdom of adults through its trickster characters", contrasting Jack as a "good trickster" with Oogie Boogie, whom he also compares with Dr. Seuss' Dr. Terwilliker as a bad trickster. Entertainment Weekly reports that fan reception of these characters borders on obsession, profiling Laurie and Myk Rudnick, a couple whose "degree of obsession with [the] film is so great that ... they named their son after the real-life person that a character in the film is based on." This enthusiasm for the characters has also been profiled as having spread beyond North America to Japan. Yvonne Tasker notes "the complex characterization seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas". Most recently, the film ranked #1 on Rotten Tomatoes' "Top 25 Best Christmas Movies" list.
Danny Elfman was worried the characterization of Oogie Boogie would be considered racist by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Elfman's predictions came true; however, director Henry Selick stated the character was inspired by the Betty Boop cartoon The Old Man of the Mountain. "Cab Calloway would dance his inimitable jazz dance and sing 'Minnie the Moocher' or 'Old Man of the Mountain', and they would rotoscope him, trace him, turn him into a cartoon character, often transforming him into an animal, like a walrus," Selick continued. "I think those are some of the most inventive moments in cartoon history, in no way racist, even though he was sometimes a villain. We went with Ken Page, who is a black singer, and he had no problem with it".
Nightmare has inspired video game spin-offs, including Oogie's Revenge and The Pumpkin King and is among the many Disney-owned franchises that contribute to the mythology of the Kingdom Hearts series. A trading card game is also available. Since 2001, Disneyland has held a Nightmare Before Christmas theme for its Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction.
Around the release of the film, Disney executive David Hoberman was quoted, "I hope Nightmare goes out and makes a fortune. If it does, great. If it doesn't, that doesn't negate the validity of the process. The budget was less than any Disney blockbuster so it doesn't have to earn Aladdin-sized grosses to satisfy us." Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was given a limited release on October 15, 1993, before being wide released on October 29. The film earned $50 million in the United States on its first theatrical run.
On October 20, 2006, Walt Disney Pictures reissued Nightmare (no longer under Touchstone) with conversion to Disney Digital 3-D. Industrial Light & Magic assisted in the process. It made a further $8.7 million in box office gross. Subsequently, the 3-D version of Nightmare has been re-released annually in October. The 2007 and 2008 reissues earned a $14.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively, increasing the film's total box office gross to $74.7 million. The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California showed the film in 4-D format from October 21–31, 2010. The reissues have led to a reemergence of 3-D films and advances in RealD Cinema.
The film was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Nightmare won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, while Elfman won Best Music. Selick and the animators were also nominated for their work. Elfman was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. The American Film Institute nominated The Nightmare Before Christmas for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
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." The 2005 video game The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge did continue the story of the film, with Capcom's crew of developers going after Tim Burton for advice, and having the collaboration of the film's art director, Deane Taylor. In 2009, Selick said he would do a film sequel if he and Burton could create a good story for it.
Characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas have also had cameos in Disney and Square Enix's role-playing game series, Kingdom Hearts. In the majority of these games, Jack acts as a partner to the main character. In the first game, Jack attempts to liven up Halloween by giving a heart created by Dr. Finklestein to a Heartless, but the experiment goes wrong and the heart soon lands in the palms of Oogie Boogie. In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, he tries to help the protagonist, Sora, regain his memories. In Kingdom Hearts II, Halloween Town and its inhabitants are seen, while Jack rekindles his notion of taking over Santa's job. In the prequel game Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Jack seeks inspiration for livening up his Halloween by paying attention to the actions of the protagonist, Roxas.
At Halloween, Disneyland decorates its streets in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme. At Christmas, the Haunted Mansion attraction is decorated with characters from the movie. This new attraction is called the Haunted Mansion Holiday (known as Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare in Tokyo Disneyland).
A video game developed by Capcom, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge, was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox on October 21, 2004 in Japan, September 30, 2005 in Europe and October 10, 2005 in North America. Set after the events of the film, the player controls Jack as he fights against Oogie Boogie, who is revived and takes over Halloween Town and plots to take over all of the Holiday Worlds. Another game (a prequel this time), The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King, was developed by Tose Co., Ltd. and was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2005.
A collectible card game based on the film called The Nightmare Before Christmas TCG was released in 2005 by NECA. The game was designed by Andrew Parks and Kez Shlasnger. It consists of a Premiere set and 4 Starter Decks based on four characters, Jack Skellington, the Mayor, Oogie Boogie, and Doctor Finklestein. Each Starter contain a rule book, a Pumpkin King card, a Pumpkin Points card, and a 48-card deck. The game has four card types: Characters, Locales, Creations, and Surprises. The Cards' rarities are separated into four categories: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Ultra Rare.
A collector's edition The Nightmare Before Christmas-themed Jenga game was issued with orange, purple and black blocks with Jack Skellington heads on them. The set comes in a coffin-shaped box instead of the normal rectangular box.
- The visual style of the PlayStation video game MediEvil is inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Tim Burton originally planned to make a second movie, "The Unlucky Clover" but never managed to theaters because he said it would "spoil the magic of the first movie."
- In 2006, Disney reissued The Nightmare Before Christmas as a Walt Disney Pictures release instead of Touchstone Pictures.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas at The Tim Burton Collective
- Nightmare Before Christmas Behind The Scenes A time lapse of the stop-motion animation process.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas Wiki
- Halloween Specials Wiki: The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Christmas Specials Wiki: The Nightmare Before Christmas
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