The Nightmare Before Christmas has become an irreplaceable piece to my holiday celebrations and has been for 25 years now. It's incredible to think that my little sister is only two years older than this stop-motion classic, and even more impressive that it still has the magical appeal it had way back in 1993. The film had success right out of the gates, earning $76 million during its opening weekend run on a mere $18 million budget. I can't think of a more popular staple in both Halloween and Christmas pop culture, and it seems as though no one will ever dethrone The Pumpkin King!
It's clear that this movie and the franchise have hundreds of thousands of fans, but even the biggest of fan may be lacking in the knowledge of the film's history. Everything from how the idea for the story began, to its relationship with Disneyland has a fascinating history.
Boys and girls of every age, here comes facts now on this web page!
The Film's Beginnings
Everyone associates this beloved film with Tim Burton, and rightly so. He was the producer and creator (though not the director and more on that later), but not many know the film's origin story. The movie is based on a long poem that Burton wrote back in 1982. (you can find that entire poem here) While working for Disney Animation Studios, Burton tried to have a short film made based on his poem. Nothing immediately happened with the idea, and eventually Burton and Disney parted ways. However, during his time away from Disney he went on to make some of my other favorite movies such as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.
In 1990, Burton was determined to get something going again with his original spooky story, but later found out that Disney still owned the rights. Luckily, Jeffery Katzenburg was interested in pursuing this idea with Burton as a way to continue to enhance Disney Studio's versatile animation techniques that were prominent in the 1990s. (Side Bar: this period of time within the studio's successes is also known as The Disney Renaissance - read more about that in one of my first posts). Burton was eventually persuaded to make the movie a musical and collaborated with Danny Elfman, a fellow colleague of Burton's for some time now, to create 11 original songs for the new film. And with that, The Nightmare Before Christmas was on its way.
In his own words, "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." Burton only visited the San Francisco studios five times total in the two years, spending only a week there at a time.
OK... so then why is it Burton's name in the title? I asked myself that same question. The simple answer is that Disney believed it would attract more of an audience to the movie. Initially, Disney wanted no association with the film and thought it was "too dark and scary" for their usual child-heavy audience. This was the reason for releasing the film under Touchstone Pictures instead. But since Disney still wanted people coming to the theater with the release, they ended up using Burton's name in the hopes of attracting movie goers with a "celeb" name such as his. Burton acknowledges that this happened and isn't even entirely sure why they did it to this day.
Many fans of the film (myself included) don't give Selick enough kudos on what he was able to create, but clearly the credit goes to him and his team of 120 workers. Even Walt Disney studios contributed minimally. They provided the team with a few shots of "second-layering traditional animation". This technique was used to animate more difficult pieces of the claymation character aspects - mainly, a few of Sally's mouth movements. Jack, on the other hand, had a total of 400 modeled heads in order to accomplish all of his faces and movements. Is it weird that I'm curious where all those heads are now?
The Ride That Never Was
In 2001, the biggest thing to happen to the film since opening week was officially launched: The Haunted Mansion Holiday opened its candy cane decorated iron gates at Disneyland. This proves to be one of the more successful, if not THE most successful overlay for any of the Disney park attractions. Wait times jump up to almost triple their usual time, and the attraction is open for almost a third of the entire year - proof of its success in itself if you ask me.
According to my favorite Disney podcast, Remain Seated Please, the partnership between Haunted Mansion and Nightmare Before Christas was not the first choice for Imagineers. The park had originally wanted to do a ride layover with the movie "A Christmas Carol", but it just didn't make sense with the location. In fact, the original Haunted Mansion we all know and love was actually the leftover idea of what was once supposed to be a Nightmare Before Christmas themed dark ride! Guests would climb into the buggies and travel through halloween town, professor Finkelstein's lab, Oogie Boogie's lair, and finally into the snow covered graveyard. Check out some of the early sketches from this ride below.
While I would have been absolutely stoked for a chance to see Jack and the gang in a year-round ride, I am so glad this awesome dark ride layover exists. Of course with all attraction layovers, some updates had to be made to create the spectacle it has become. First, there had to be some new visual updates, such as the ones made to Madam Leota. Fun Fact: since the woman who originally played Leota had aged by the time the layover was created, they used her daughter's face to create the updated movements to her script while her head floats in that crystal ball. Adjustments to sounds and music also had to be designed. The voices for Oogie Boogie and Jack are voiced by same actor who portrayed those characters in the movie, but some character voices, such as Sally are done by different actors. Producers also revamped the music in order to fit the ride more appropriately.
Although it could be seen as a loss that we never got to experience the ride that could have been, this seasonal spinoff also brings a special sense of desire to attraction and ensures we never take a spin on our "sleighs" for granted.
MORE FUN FACTS!
No good movie blog post could be completed without the author listing some of their favorite movie facts. To finish up this post, here are a few fun tidbits about the making of this film that holds a spooky place in heart. And as Jack would say, "just because I cannot see it doesn't mean I don't believe it!"
There may have been an alternative ending to the film
At first, Selick had the idea for Oogie Boogie to be revealed in that last scene to be the mad scientist, Dr. Finklestein. The idea was quickly rejected.
Speaking of Oogie... his character sculpture came in a whopping 2 feet tall.
This is actually huge considered Jack was only 14 inches. Oogie was by far the largest and most difficult character they had to animate. And his little friends? The scene at the end of the movie was especially hard and had animators working overtime sculpting hundreds of tiny clay bugs.
Zero the dog's ghostly effect is a total Hollywood secret
the character appears as if he is a mirage because that's exactly what he is. Zero's claymation is moved out of the camera's view and mirrors are used to make him appear in frame, giving him a ghostly appearance. Animators have been using this trick (called "beam-splitting") for years!
Like me and can't get enough of Nightmare?! Check out this awesome three part series on YouTube for more behind scenes action.