Do you want to feel old? Neither do I but, with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas turning 25-years-old today, you don’t have a say in the matter. Released on October 29, 1993, the stop-motion animated, musical movie has gone down in cinematic folklore for its songs, art style, lovable characters, and amalgamation of two of our favourite holidays.
To commemorate this milestone event, I’ve put together a list of facts, secrets, and other noteworthy tidbits about the making of the movie from the film’s development, production, cast, crew, and more. I already know what you’re thinking - you’ve heard all of this trivia before on the DVD/Blu-ray commentary, or in the numerous behind-the-scenes videos you’ve watched, or in other listicles over the past decade or so…
Not so - these aren’t facts you’ll be familiar with already (like, the story about Burton getting the idea from a trip to a convenience store where he found an amalgamation of Halloween and Christmas decorations). I’ve searched high and low for the best The Nightmare Before Christmas details and secrets that aren’t universally known, so you can impress your friends and family at the next big family event. You’re welcome. Anyway, here’s 12 little-known secrets about The Nightmare Before Christmas on its 25th birthday.
Oh, and if you want to know how to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas online, so you can rewatch it in honour of its anniversary, we have that too!
1. It was originally going to be a festive TV show
Burton had originally pitched The Nightmare Before Christmas as a festive TV show, along the same lines as classic 1964 festive TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Unfortunately, there were no executives who were willing to entertain the idea, so Burton had head back to the drawing board. After he also failed to pitch the story as a book, Burton took one last shot and reworked the idea into a movie format. Disney - who initially mothballed the idea as a TV special - took Burton up on the full-length feature eight years after its initial rejection. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. The creepy characters have an unusual origin story
The Nightmare Before Christmas’ characters are scary and ugly in nature. They have to be, coming from a place called Halloween Town. It’s become a signature of Burton’s cinematic style too, but how did they come to be so spooky and horrifying to look at? The flick’s model artists were asked to draw the initial character sketches with their non-dominant hand, which helped to create such monstrosities as Igor, Melting Man, and the witches. The designs were further inspired by 1920s German expressionism, which helped to give the characters and sets a distinct look.
3. Film composer Danny Elfman wanted to play Jack Skellington
It's well documented that legendary film composer Danny Elfman voiced Jack Skellington during his musical numbers in the film. What's not common knowledge, however, is that Elfman had also recorded Jack's spoken lines too, with the hope that he’d play the lead for the entire film. Henry Selick - the man who, contrary to popular belief, actually directed The Nightmare Before Christmas - wasn't enthused with Elfman's delivery though. After a meeting with Burton, the duo drafted in Chris Sarandon instead - a ploy that didn't go down well with Elfman, who refused to score Burton's next film in retaliation.
4. Disney wanted to give Jack eyes!
As the film’s protagonist, Jack underwent a number of changes over his appearance. It was Selick who insisted on his pinstripe suit, with the director claiming that Jack needed to stand out against the dark, gloomy backgrounds he’d front. Selick and Burton were instrumental in another design aesthetic too. The pair refused to back down over Disney’s desire to give Jack a pair of eyes to fill his sockets. Disney - who released the movie under their Touchstone Picture umbrella due to the film’s weird nature - claimed that Jack needed eyes so that audiences would connect with him. Selick and Burton stood firm though, and eventually Disney relented.
5. The Oogie Boogie Man was particularly challenging to film...
The film’s iconic villain Oogie Boogie Man proved to be quite the challenge for the puppetry department. The scene where Jack tears away his sack-like exterior, to reveal the makeup of bugs underneath, is only comprised of four shots, so why was it so arduous to make? Selick has gone on record to state that it took an entire month to get the shots right. This is because of how much detail there was in the individual bugs, and ensuring that each one moved independently - and in tandem with Oogie Boogie’s own movements - caused a massive headache during production.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas nearly had a totally different ending
Speaking of Oogie Boogie, the film’s big bad may not have appeared as he did in the final version. A twist ending whereby Dr. Finkelstein, Sally’s creator, was supposed to be disguised as Oogie Boogie, was originally written into the script. Finkelstein had supposedly been driven to revenge due to Sally’s love for Jack, and wanted the pair to pay for this. However, Burton and Selick opted to change this at the last minute, and give The Nightmare Before Christmas a more terrifying villain.
7. Two brand-new inventions were built on-set
Film making is complex, and people working on them run into daily problems that require solutions. The Nightmare Before Christmas was no different, with two new inventions built to facilitate filming. One such device - a light alarm - was made to alert the animators when one of the on-set bulbs broke. The other allowed puppeteers to switch out different models of each character if their armature - the wire skeletons that enabled different model positions - had a fault, without causing an entire reset of the scene being shot.
8. Did you spot the movie’s major mistake?
Film faux-pas have become an amusing trend to look out for in recent times, and The Nightmare Before Christmas has a major flaw during one particular scene. Where did the crew mess up? Remember the scene where the bats fly in front of the moon during the opening number? You can clearly see the strings that are holding them up against the backdrop. Once you see it, it's hard not to be aware of it on subsequent watches.
9. A special trick was used to give Santa’s Naughty or Nice some substance
Many fans won't have given Santa Claus' Naughty or Nice list a second thought when it makes a brief appearance in the flick. What may blow your mind, however, is how the crew prevented the long list from being too flimsy to maintain its shape. What was the secret? Adding a thin layer of aluminium foil between two sheets of paper, which gave it a flexibility to be moulded in whatever shape was needed.
10. Jack also has a cameo in another stop-motion film
Jack’s acting credits aren’t reserved for The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Pumpkin King has appeared in other stop-motion films, with a cameo in another Selick directed affair. In Selick’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, Jack can be seen sitting in the captain’s chair of a sunken pirate vessel. A nice nod to The Nightmare Before Christmas’ male lead, wouldn’t you agree?
11. Burton said no to a Nightmare Before Christmas ride at Disneyland
Due to its popularity over the past 25 years, Disney has always sought a way to make The Nightmare Before Christmas a fixture at Disneyland. Burton shot down the idea for a fairground ride when the film was initially released, but Disney found a way around this problem. Every Halloween, Disney gives their Haunted Mansion ride a makeover to pay tribute to the film. The ride looks stunning, but I often wonder how Burton lets them get away with it.
12. As well as a sequel...
Disney didn’t get its own way with everything concerning The Nightmare Before Christmas. The studio wanted Burton to direct a CGI sequel in an effort to rake in the cash off the back of the original’s success. Burton has consistently refused to make one though, and claimed that the film’s integrity and purity are the major reasons why he won’t entertain ever making a follow-up.
Looking for more festive films to watch? Check out our breakdown of the best Christmas movies of all time.