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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. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, a being from "Halloween Town" who opens a portal to "Christmas Town". Danny Elfman wrote the film score and provided the singing voice of Jack, as well as other minor characters. The remaining principal voice cast includes Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Ken Page and Glen Shadix.

The genesis of the neo-gothic surrealistic film known as The Nightmare Before Christmas started with a poem by Tim Burton as a Disney animator in the early-1980s. With the success of Vincent in 1982, Disney started to consider The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short subject 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 Franciscomarker. Walt Disney Pictures decided to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner because they thought Nightmare would be "too dark and scary for kids". The Nightmare Before Christmas has been viewed with critical and financial success. Disney has reissued the film annually under their Disney Digital 3-D format since 2006.


"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 ("This is Halloween"), but he has grown tired of the same routine year after year ("Jack's Lament"). Wandering in the forest outside the town center, he accidentally opens a portal to "Christmas Town" ("What's This?"). Impressed by the feeling and style of Christmas, Jack presents his findings and his (somewhat limited) understanding of the holiday 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 ("Town Meeting Song").

Jack's obsession with Christmas leads him to usurp the role of Santa Claus ("Jack's Obsession"). Sally, a rag doll woman who is created by the town's mad scientist, Dr. Finklestein, begins to feel a romantic attraction towards Jack. However, she receives a premonition that his plans will end in disaster and attempts in vain to warn him, however Jack is blinded by his enthusiasm for Christmas to her warnings. Jack assigns every resident in Halloween Town a task to help with Christmas ("Making Christmas"). Jack assigns Lock, Shock and Barrel, a trio of mischievous children, to abduct Santa and bring him back to Halloween Town ("Kidnap the Sandy Claws"). 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 ("Oogie Boogie's Song").

Christmas Eve arrives and Sally attempts to stop Jack, 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, much to Sally's dismay ("Sally's Song"). 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 impostor 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. Although he is depressed by the failure of his plan, he quickly regains his old spirit and appreciation for former role as the Pumpkin King, having come up with new ideas for next Halloween ("Poor Jack"). 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 defeats Oogie by unraveling his outer covering to spill out all the bugs that comprise him. 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. Jack reveals that he is attracted to Sally just as she is to him, and they kiss under the full moon in the cemetery ("Finale/Reprise").

Voice cast

  • Danny Elfman (singing) and Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington: A skeleton known as the "Pumpkin King" of Halloween Town. He has a pet ghost dog named Zero, who has a small, glowing jack-o'-lantern nose. Jack tries to take-over Christmas, but the ploy leads to disastrous results.
  • Catherine O'Hara as Sally: A rag doll-like creation of Finklestein. Sally forms a romantic attraction towards Jack and is the only citizen in Halloween Town who predicts Jack's disastrous results. Burton previously worked with O'Hara on Beetlejuice (1988).
  • William Hickey as Doctor Finklestein: A mad scientist who "created" Sally. Finklestein creates the skeleton-like reindeer for Jack, and creates a soulmate at the end of the film.
  • Glenn Shadix as Mayor of Halloween Town: An enthusiastic leader who conducts town meetings and is excited by Jack's direction of taking over Christmas, though his wild mood swings from happy to distraught causes his head to spin.
  • Ken Page as Oogie Boogie: A bogeyman and un-respected citizen in Halloween Town. Oogie Boogie has a passion for gambling.
  • Ed Ivory as Santa Claus: Responsible for the annual celebration of Christmas by delivering presents to children around the world. Santa ends up saving Christmas when Jack almost (accidentally) destroys the holiday. Jack repeatedly mispronounces his name as 'Santy Claws'.

Paul Reubens, along with O'Hara and Elfman provide the voices of Lock, Shock, and Barrel. Reubens previously worked with Burton in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985). Elfman also supplied the voice for the "Clown with the Tear-Away Face". The cast also features comedian Greg Proops of Whose Line is it Anyway? fame portraying various characters.


Burton wrote a three-page poem titled The Nightmare Before Christmas when he was a Disney animator in the early-1980s. Burton took inspiration from television specials of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. With the success of Vincent in 1982, Disney started to consider The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short subject or 30-minute Holiday television special. Rick Heinrichs and Burton created concept art and storyboards, with Heinrichs also sculpting character models. "Back then, I would have done anything to get the project off ground", Burton explained. "There was a lot of talk of either a short film, like Vincent or a TV special, but it went nowhere. I also wanted to have Vincent Price as narrator." Burton showed Henry Selick, who was also a Disney animator in the early-1980s, the material he and Heinrichs developed.

Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project. In 1990, Burton found out that Disney still owned the film rights, and the two committed to produce a full-length film with Selick 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, Californiamarker with a crew of 200 workers. Joe Ranft worked as a storyboard artist, while Paul Berry was hired as an animation supervisor.

Elfman found writing Nightmare's 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 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.

Character design

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 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 "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 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. Some have wondered which real-life company failure the movie is based on: Sergio Zyman's New Coke or Merck's launch and subsequent withdrawal of Vioxx."


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 several of the film's songs by Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple and She Wants Revenge. Six original demo tracks by Elfman were also included. On September 30, 2008, Disney released the cover album Nightmare Revisited.


Walt Disney Pictures decided to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner because they thought Nightmare 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. It wasn't too dark, too scary. Kids love to get scared. In fact, I don't think it's too scary at all. Even little, little kids, as young as three, a lot of them love that film and respond well to it." 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."

Around the release of the film, Touchstone president David Hoberman 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." The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 9. 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.

Danny Elfman was worried the characterization of Oogie Boogie would be considered racist by 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". The film was nominated for both the Academy Award for Visual Effects and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost both categories to Jurassic Park. 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 lost the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score to Kitarō of Heaven & Earth.


The film has gone on to receive critical acclaim. Based on 69 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of the critics enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas with the consensus of "a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation." With 15 reviewers in the "Top Critics" category, the film has a 100% approval rating. By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 77, based on 16 reviews. Roger Ebert, who mainly was not enthusiastic over Burton's previous films, 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's 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's Dr. Terwilliker, as a bad trickster. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic see the characters as presented in a more negative light and criticize the film's characters as having racial constructs, with the protagonists using "whitespeak" and the antagonist, Oogie Boogie, using "blackspeak." Entertainment Weekly reports that fan reception of these characters borders on obsession, profiling "Laurie and Myk Rudnick a couple who are extremely interested in the motion picture The Nightmare Before Christmas. Their degree of obsession with that 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 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.

With successful home video sales, Nightmare achieved the ranks of a cult film. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment first released the film on DVD in December 1997. It contained no special features. Nightmare was released a second time in October 2000 as a special edition. The release included audio commentary by Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, a 28-minute making-of documentary, gallery of concept art, and storyboards, test footage and deleted scenes. Burton's Vincent and Frankenweenie were also included. On October 20, 2006, Disney reissued Nightmare (not under Touchstone Pictures) with conversion to Disney Digital 3-D. Industrial Light & Magic assisted in the process. It made a further $8.7 million in the box office. 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 gross to $74.7 million. It has also been reissued again for 2009's Halloween season.

These reissues have led to a reemergence of 3-D films and advances in Real D Cinema. Disney released the film again on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in August 2008 as a two-disc digitally remastered "collector's edition". Nightmare has also become a brand name for the Goth subculture, and inspired video game spin-off, 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, Disneylandmarker has held a Nightmare Before Christmas theme for its Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction.

Jamie Frater ranks the film first on a list of Top 10 Kids' Movies Adults Will Love, calling the film, "One of the most memorable and wonderful family films ever. Christmas, Halloween, and Tim Burton, how can it miss? The soundtrack from Danny Elfman is amazing, with witty, beautiful tunes and lyrics. Jack is perfectly realized as the 'town hero' who seeks more in his life (or death, as it may be), a place we all find ourselves time to time. Sally is loverlorn and pines for Jack to not only love her, but to just notice her. Incredibly animated by Henry Selick, based on Tim Burton's original story, NBX has become a cult classic a true masterpiece."

Abandoned sequel

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", Burton said. "Because it's 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."


  1. Tim Burton, Henry Selick, The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, 2000, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
  2. Mimi Avins (November 1993). "Ghoul World", Premiere, pp. 24–30. Retrieved on 2008-09-26.
  3. Henry Selick, Pete Kozachik, DVD audio commentary, 2000, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
  4. David Helpern (December 1994). "Animated Dreams", Sight & Sound, pp. 33—37. Retrieved on 2008-09-26.
  5. Salisbury, Burton, p.115—120
  6. Richard Rickitt, Special Effects: The History and Technique (Watson-Guptill, 2000), 159- 160.
  7. Maureen Furniss, Art in motion: animation aesthetics (1998), 168.
  8. Ramin Setoodeh, "HAUNTED PARKS", Newsweek 144.16 (10/18/2004): 73.
  9. Frederick J. Augustyn, Dictionary of Toys and Games in American Popular Culture (Haworth Press, 2004), 18.
  10. " New Disney Fine Art: Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas Limited Edition by Artist Jim Salvati," TechWhack (November 3rd, 2008).
  11. For an image of a Sally costume, see Bobwilson, " Halloween gives teens a chance to scare, be silly," AVALANCHE-JOURNAL (10/31/2008).
  12. tk, "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack's story", Disney Scary Storybook Collection (New York: Disney Press, 2003.), 5.
  13. Jim Edwards, "Jack Skellington, Brand Manager", Brandweek 47.40 (10/30/2006): 21.
  14. Michael A. Morrison, Trajectories of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fourteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997), 154.
  15. Philip Nel, Dr. Seuss: American Icon (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004), 95.
  16. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror (Temple University Press, 1997), 281.
  17. "OBSESSIVE FANS OF THE WEEK!" in Entertainment Weekly 909 (12/1/2006): 6.
  18. Stephen Jones, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002), 75.
  19. Yvonne Tasker, Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers (Routledge, 2002), 76.
  20. "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas", Releases, Box Office Mojo, retrieved 18-09-2009
  21. Jamie Frater, "Top Ten Kids' Movies Adults Will Love," The Ultimate Book of Top 10 Lists: A Mind-Boggling Collection of Fun, Fascinating and Bizarre Facts on Movies, Music, Sports, Crime, Celebrities, History, Trivia and More (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2010), 380.

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