Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Christmas 2020 has finished and there is no better way to end our ‘Christmas Countdown’ than with a film whose title alone could describe this year. The debate over whether it’s a Halloween movie or Christmas film can be settled by others. It’s time I join the rest of the world and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Plot

Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is the beloved Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, but years of routine and adulation has caused Jack to yearn for more. When he discovers the gateway to Christmas Town and learns about the holiday and Santa Claus, Jack thinks he has found the new role that he has been looking for.

A daring plan to capture Santa Claus and to take his job has Jack leading a varied group of misfits and monsters conspiring together. His desire for a newfound freedom has put a wedge between him and his lady love Sally (Catherine O’Hara). When Jack takes off on Christmas Eve to assume the Santa role, he learns that Santa’s job is harder than it looks. The creepy and spooky gifts left by Jack are a disaster. His imposter status is reported, and his sleigh is shot down by the military.

Back in Halloween Town, Santa has been taken by the villainous Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). Sally valiantly tries to save him, but she too is captured. When Jack comes to his senses and realizes that his place is in Halloween Town as the Pumpkin King, he has only minutes to spare to spring into action and save Sally, Santa, and Christmas.

Cinematic Compliments

I shied away from watching The Nightmare Before Christmas because it was a stop motion animated film. The technique never appealed to me, and for that reason, I have been missing out on a cinematic wonder. Not only are the characters easy to connect with the central theme of the story is about yearning for more and losing sight of all that you have. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, but his soul is as human as anyone else in the world.

Cinematic Complaints

I have nothing to complain about. It may have taken me years to finally see this movie, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fantastic film. If you are uncomfortable with monsters and ghouls, then perhaps you may want to take a miss, but you will be missing out.

Fun Film Facts

  • Composer Danny Elfman is the singing voice of Jack Skellington.
  • Originally the movie was going to be released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner but was moved to the Touchstone label when executives were concerned the film wasn’t family friendly enough. In subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray re-releases the Walt Disney Pictures label has been restored to the film.
  • The film is based on a poem written by Tim Burton in the 1980’s when he was a young animator at Disney Animation. The poem only had three characters, Jack, Zero, and Santa Claus.
  • Burton would only be an executive producer on the film, with Henry Selick directing. Selick and a crew of hundreds would spend almost three years making the film in San Francisco.
  • A rumored sequel in 2001 was abandoned when Tim Burton wouldn’t back the project. Disney had wanted to do an animated feature follow up, but Burton felt the movie had a purity that didn’t need a sequel.
  • Vincent Price was originally cast for the vocals of Santa Claus, but due to failing health the role had to be recast.
  • An extended ending to the film on the soundtrack album has Santa returning to Halloween Town to see Jack who has multiple skeleton babies with Sally.
  • There are seven holiday doors in the forest.
  • The film was such a massive hit that a seasonal overlay of The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland is done to the tune of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • This was Touchstone Pictures only stop motion animated film.
  • Keen eyed viewers will see a hidden Mickey on the table where Jack does his experiments.
  • While the film was a box office success, the explosion in merchandise has made the film and the characters a pop culture phenomenon.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

I had never seen the film until this week, and I am amazed at how well the film holds up and how memorable the storyline is. At first glance, one shouldn’t like Jack Skellington or care for anyone in Halloween Town. It’s the creativity of the filmmakers, brilliance in the voice talent, and the amazing musical numbers that makes The Nightmare Before Christmas such a classic.

The Nightmare Before Christmas gets a solid 4 Golden Popcorn Bucket rating. It’s witty and fun, a unique take on the holidays (Christmas and Halloween) with a soundtrack you will be humming for weeks to come.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is available on Disney+.

Coming Attractions

Next week, we set sail with Treat Williams and director Stephen Sommar’s high seas adventure, Deep Rising. I’m sure we will have a monster of a time with this upcoming pic.

Production Credits

Directed by Henry Selick

Produced by Touchstone Pictures

Starring:

  • Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington
  • Catherine O’Hara as Sally
  • Ken Page as Oogie Boogie

Release Date: October 17, 1993

Budget: $18 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $77,368,668

Worldwide Total: $91,491,030

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