Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is now streaming on Disney+. The dual-holiday classic has long straddled the line between Halloween movie and Christmas movie, as was its intention. But its focus on a central character whose spookiness and love of the macabre permeates the entire film makes an excellent argument that it’s actually been a Halloween movie all along.
Released in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 30 this year, making this a great time to revisit the stop-motion film if you haven’t seen it in a while. Though strongly associated with Tim Burton, and rightly so, the Batman auteur, who was riding high off the success of that film and at the time of Nightmare‘s development, did not actually direct the film that brought Jack Skellington into our lives.
Released in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 30 this year
That honor instead belongs to Henry Selnick, who was making his feature film debut, though he was hardly a stranger to the worlds of animation and directing.
Long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick directed his first animated short, Tube Tales, in 1975, later joining Walt Disney Feature Animation, where Tim Burton also got his start.
Selick served as an animator and in-betweener on Disney films such as Pete’s Dragon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and The Black Cauldron. In 1991, he directed his fourth animated short, Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions.
The Nightmare Before Christmas began as a poem written by Burton during his time at Disney, inspired by his love of both Halloween and Christmas and drawing on holiday classics like the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, along with the poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas.
The Nightmare Before Christmas began as a poem written by Burton during his time at Disney.
There was talk at the time of Disney producing a half-hour television special based on the poem, but it was deemed too weird, as was Burton. His misfit nature led to his exit from the company in 1984.
But when Burton returned to the idea of making The Nightmare Before Christmas, he discovered that Disney still owned the rights to the film, leading him to collaborate with the studio once again.
At the time, he was directing Batman Returns and was not able or willing to engage in the painstaking and time-consuming work of directing stop-motion animation. This led to Henry Selick taking the director’s chair for the ambitious animated project.
It was Burton’s career after he left Disney that convinced the studio to work with him again on making The Nightmare Before Christmas. In 1988, Burton exploded onto the scene as a hot young directing talent with Beetlejuice, which will be getting a sequel, Beetlejuice 2, next year.
He followed that with the global smash hit Batman in 1989, which made him a huge star director and much more attractive to Disney than he was as a misunderstood animation artist who wrote creepy poems in his downtime.
Of course, the poem version of The Nightmare Before Christmas was hardly enough to build a feature film on, and Burton brought in Michael Mcdowell, who had written Beetlejuice, to adapt the poem into a screenplay. Mcdowell, who died in 1999, was referred to by Stephen King as “the finest writer of paperback originals in America today.”
His published works as an author of fiction include the “Jack and Susan” mysteries, The Elementals, and the Blackwater series, along with the novelization with the 1985 dark comedy Clue.
A collector of death memorabilia, McDowell’s taste for the grim made him a perfect choice to write The Nightmare Before Christmas. Of course, an essential element of the film is its music, which was written by long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, known for his work as a rock musician as much as for his composing of film scores. Elfman, sadly, has recently been hit with two lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct, though he continues to claim his innocence.
When casting the voice of Jack Skellington for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elfman was the perfect choice, having temp-tracked his own voice on recordings of the songs he was writing for the film. He ended up playing his first film role to perfection, and his performance, both in singing and in voice acting, brought the highly stylized skeleton character to inimitable life.
The film began development in 1990, and when it was released in 1993, was an instant success.
The film began development in 1990, and when it was released in 1993, was an instant success and has held a place in holiday film legend ever since.
But The Nightmare Before Christmas is more than just a holiday movie. Its characters and aesthetic, and particularly Jack Skellington, have become icons in their own right.
It doesn’t take a festive season to see images of Jack, his girlfriend Sally, his dog Zero, and other denizens of Halloween Town adorning bumper stickers, t-shirts, pinback buttons, backpacks, and other clothing and merchandise all year ’round. The film’s unique visual style and eminently singable music have made a singular impression on the movie world and on pop culture.
So, if you want to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas, now is the perfect time to stream it on Disney+.