1.Tim Burton Didn’t Direct the Movie
This seems weird because the movie is literally called “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas”. Tim Burton came up with the idea for the story, the characters, and the general look of the film, but he didn’t have time to direct it because he was busy working on Batman Returns.
Burton produced The Nightmare Before Christmas and delegated direction to his old Disney Animation colleague Henry Selick.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was Selick’s first experience directing a feature film. Selick’s career up to this point had focused on animation, and he was an expert in the stop-motion animation used in Nightmare. After Nightmare became a success, Selick went on to direct films such as James and the Giant Peach (1996) and Coraline (2009).
2.Nightmare Was a Poem Before It Was a Film
Tim Burton wrote a poem about Jack Skellington, his dog Zero, and Santa Clause (no Sally!) while he was working as an animator for Disney. He pitched the idea as a television special, hoping that it could join the ranks of Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman, playing every year. After it was rejected, Burton approached publishers about printing it as a children’s book in rhyme. No one bit, but he finally had success when he proposed it as a feature film. Burton said that his initial idea for the story occurred about twenty years before the film’s release in 1993.
3.Jack Had 400 Heads
The stop-motion animation used in Nightmare involves using puppets or clay figures and manipulating them in small increments. Each tiny move of the figures is photographed and then put together to give the effect of smooth motion. It’s like a filmed version of one of these:
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For each expression that Jack makes, the head had to be changed out and replaced. Jack had over 400 different heads to give him a full range of expressions for the film. The painstaking process of this animation style is why one minute of the film took about a week to shoot.
4.Disney Didn’t Want its Name on Nightmare
The Nightmare Before Christmas was considered too strange and dark for the Disney brand, so they made it through their other branch, Touchstone Pictures. One of the things that Burton and Disney disagreed on was Jack’s eyes or lack thereof. A common rule of puppetry is that eyes are necessary for audience connection. Burton refused to give Jack friendly eyes like Disney wanted, and proved that people could connect with an eyeless skeleton head after all.
Despite these artistic differences, Disney allowed Burton to include some hidden Mickey’s in the film. A malevolent stuffed animal with a toothed grin that attacks a girl in Christmas Town is meant to be Burton’s version of Mickey. The girl being attacked by Evil Mickey is wearing Mickey Mouse print pajamas.
5.Christmas Creep Inspired the Plot
The ever-earlier appearance of Christmas decorations in stores, sometimes starting right after Halloween, inspired Tim Burton to think about the two holidays clashing. Growing up in Burbank, California, Burton didn’t have any seasonal changes to associate with Christmas, so the retail displays were an important sign of the season.
Seeing Halloween decor on the shelves with Christmas decor inspired his original idea for the poem that became the film. The title was a play on the classic poem “The Night Before Christmas “ by Clement Clarke Moore. Luckily, Burton’s Halloween/Christmas mashup worked out much better than the retail version.
6.Pen and Ink Drawings Inspired the Animation
Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey’s drawings inspired Tim Burton’s style. The connection is especially obvious when you look at Gorey’s work, which often depicts elongated, vaguely unsettling Victorian characters. Both Searle and Gorey worked in pen and ink. Nightmare’s production design team scratched crosshatching and other pen and ink-like textures into the clay and plaster, with the goal of creating a “living illustration”. This incredible attention to detail is part of what makes Nightmare’s animation stand out from the crowd.
7.Nightmare Isn’t Jack’s Only Movie
If you look closely at some of Burton’s and Selick’s other work, you will see Jack popping up in cameos. He even appears in Beetlejuice, which came out five years before The Nightmare Before Christmas. If you look closely, you will see Jack’s head on top of Beetlejuice’s carnival tent. In Selick’s Coraline, Jack’s head appears in an egg yolk after the Other Mother cracks an egg. His head also appears briefly in a bubble in Disney’s Finding Nemo.
Jack’s biggest role was in James and the Giant Peach, where he plays the Skeleton Pirate. When Centipede sees him, he even asks, “ A skellington?” Maybe this is a sign that Jack has escaped Halloween Town once again…
8.The Ending was Supposed to Have a Surprise Twist
In the version we all know, the movie ends after the villain Oogie Boogie is reduced to bugs. The original idea was for Oogie Boogie to be unveiled as Dr. Finkelstein in disguise. In this alternate ending, Dr. Finkelstein has it in for Jack out of jealousy because Finkelstein created Sally to be his mate. The animators were probably not fans of the plot change, as the ending scene with Boogie’s bugs is the most complex in the film.
9.There was Almost a Nightmare Before Christmas Ride
Disney wanted to create a ride based on the film; they even got as far as sketching out the idea. But Burton, who owns 50 % of the rights, put the kibosh to it. Burton has been vocal about his desire to keep the film “pure”. He also rejected a proposal by Disney to make a sequel. In an era of constant reboots, remakes, and sequels, we’re glad that some things are still sacred.
10.The Soundtrack is its own Phenomenon
As you probably already know, the soundtrack to the Nightmare Before Christmas is just as popular as the film itself. All of the original music was composed by Danny Elfman, and the soundtrack was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score in 1993. In 2006 Disney released a bonus disc that included covers of the songs by several popular artists including Marilyn Manson and Panic At The Disco.
To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the film’s release, Disney released Nightmare Revisited in 2008. This album included covers by a wide range of artists, including the Vitamin String Quartet, Korn, and Amy Lee. So far, songs from the Nightmare Before Christmas have been covered by over 20 different artists. The movie is also referenced in the Blink-182 song Miss You.