The Nightmare Before Christmas premiered more than 25 years ago bridging the gap between Halloween and Christmas, mixing up the macabre with the joyful, candy canes with jack o’lanterns.
The mashup movie is definitely a Christmas (trick or) treat but how much do you know about it? We’ve rounded up a few facts that you may not know about Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s movie.
1. Tim Burton didn’t direct the film
The film has an alternate title, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which probably doesn’t help matters, but Burton didn’t direct the film. Burton was actually working on Batman Returns at the time so got Henry Selick to direct the stop-animation film. It was Selick’s directorial debut. Burton served as a producer, created the story and characters.
2. A Burton poem came before the film
Burton was working as an animator at Disney (The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron) when he started looking at projects of his own, like the animation Vincent as well as a poem called The Nightmare Before Christmas a short parody of Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St Nicholas. Burton’s poem told the story of Jack Skellington and featured his dog Zero.
3. Burton originally thought of it as a TV special
The initial idea was to have a TV Christmas special that could become an annual event. Burton was right about The Nightmare Before Christmas becoming an annual event, but perhaps not in the way he envisioned. When he first pitched the idea to a TV studio he failed. He then tried a book publisher, but he failed again. When he tried again with a feature length movie someone finally picked his idea up. Later, on the DVD commentary, Burton says it took 20 years for his idea to premiere in 1993.
4. Burton was going to cameo
There was an alternate version of the vampires playing hockey which was later resurrected for a deleted scene. The vampires hit a jack-o-lantern in the cinema release, but the original had them hitting a decapitated head – Burton’s. It was seen as far too gory for a kid’s film and was ditched.
5. The film was inspired by commercialism
People often debate whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or Christmas film, but both seasonal events inspired the animation. Burton says in the DVD commentary that when he lived in California as a kid there wasn’t really any idea of seasonal change thanks to the ever sunny climate. Holiday decorations were Burton’s way of marking the seasons. In the autumn that was Halloween, but shops were even keen to get the Christmas decorations out meaning both would go on display blending his seasons. It was seeing this in action that kick started the idea of Halloween sneaking into Christmas for Burton.
6. Shooting started before the script was finished
The film is famously stop-motion, which takes time and a lot of it. After Danny Elfman had written the songs, Selick got his team of animators and prop makers, set builders and camera operators to start work even though there wasn’t a finished screenplay. The animators began with Jack’s big song, What’s This? Lucky they started early, they had to shoot 24 frames per second, that’s unique movements for 110,000 frames…one minute of the film took a week to shoot. When you think of all that work it’s easy to see why it took three years to make the film.
7. Jack Skellington appears in other Selick film’s
Selick’s follow up movie James and the Giant Peach was released in 1996, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. It featured a few characters including a worm, as well as a skeleton pirate – Jack. In the 2009 film Coraline he’s harder to see but he crops up when Other Mother makes breakfast. Jack is the smiling skull head hidden in the yolk of an egg.
8. Jack’s pinstripes were added for a good reason
Jack was originally dressed all in black in Burton’s first sketches. In the DVD commentary, Burton admitted that it was Selick who gave Jack’s his famous pinstripes. The idea was to make Jack standout as early tests saw Jack’s black suit blending into the background.
9. Disney wanted Jack to have eyes
Disney studios felt it was off-brand to release the film under them so the film was made by their brand Touchstone Pictures. The studio still got involved though sending their thoughts throughout the process. One of the notes insisted that Jack’s empty eye sockets be filled with eyes as they felt it would help the audience connect with the character. Burton and Selick refused and we think they proved that was the right choice.
10. The hardest shot was opening a door
The idea was to shoot The Nightmare Before Christmas as much like live-action as possible, but one shot tested the crew in particular. Jack discovers the part of the forest that takes you to other worlds, including a Christmas Tree Door. There’s a close-up shot of the golden doorknob with Jack’s reflection in its shiny surface that took a great deal of time to get right.
11. Vincent Price nearly starred as Santa
Yep, that’s right. Burton met Vincent Price on the set of Edward Scissorhands and Vincent. Price agreed to voice Santa, but his wife Coral Browne died in 1991. Selick says on the commentary that Price was still grieving and sounded too sad for Santa, so Edward Ivory was brought in to replace him.
12. Patrick Stewart was cut from the film
When Burton was first shaping The Nightmare Before Christmas it took more inspiration from the poem Burton had written. Patrick Stewart was asked in to read the extend poem which was going to be used for the start of the film and the closing narration. The monologues were cut down and then trimmed even more, before eventually being given to Edward Ivory aka Santa. Stewart’s version was recorded though and can be found on the film’s soundtrack.
13. There are a few Hidden Mickeys
While people didn’t necessarily know about Disney’s involvement in the film there are a few clues. Disney let Selick and Burton slot in a hidden Mickey, though they were initially reluctant. When the Christmas gifts attack there’s a flying stuffed animal with a big ol’ sharp toothed grin – it’s Mickey. The girl the Mickey attacks is also wearing a Mickey nightgown and her brother is wearing Donald Duck pajamas.
14. Check out that Ed Wood reference
Burton was a busy man when The Nightmare Before Christmas in production. He’d just finished up Batman Returns and had just begun work on Ed Wood, a movie about the filmmaker. As a little nod to Ed Wood’s work, Burton added a reference in The Nightmare Before Christmas…the brute that’s actually a nice guy echoes Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson from Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.
15. Did you spot that Danny Elfman cameo?
Danny Elfman and Burton teamed up on several movies, from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman as well as Edward Scissorhands so it wasn’t too surprising that he was asked to work on The Nightmare Before Christmas. What perhaps is more surprising is the fact it’s him signing as Jack, and a cameo as the re-headed corpse in the Halloween Town Band.
Elfman also sang as the Barrell and the menacing clown. The other trick or treaters were Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure star Paul Reubens and Beetlejuice’s Catherine O’Hara. O’Hara also voices Sally, while Glenn Shadix plays the mayor.
16. There’s an alternate Oogie Boogie reveal that was cut
The DVD reveals a few deleted scenes from the movie. One scene shows the Behemoth singing in Making Christmas, while another shows Oogie Boogie dancing with the bugs that make up his body. The third shows an alternate ending where Boogie is torn up and reduced to bugs – he’s then unmasked as the evil scientist Dr Finkelstein.
17. There was going to be a sequel but CGI
Burton has said he isn’t interested in a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas. So no CGI Jack.
He told MTV: “I was always very protective of [Nightmare Before Christmas], not to do sequels or things of that kind. 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 not a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it. I try to respect people and keep the purity of the project as much as possible.”