At the start of his career, Tim Burton was a frustrated animation apprentice at Disney. None of the concept art he created for The Fox and the Hound, Tron, and The Black Cauldron was used. All his ideas were rejected. In the end, they fired him on the grounds of making short films they deemed too scary for kids.
Could the young Burton have anticipated that he’d soon become one of Hollywood’s hottest directors? Either way, he must have been surprised when Disney called him back to produce a film based on one of his “too scary” stories. Good thing they did: The Nightmare Before Christmas is a modern classic.
Like a Most Improbable Dream
The Nightmare Before Christmas imagines fantasy worlds based on our own holidays. Halloween Town is home to happy haunts who believe that “Life’s no fun without a good scare.” Even so, its most popular resident, Jack Skellington, is bored on his Pumpkin King throne. He’s too good at what he does, and he wants a challenge.
He soon finds it when he accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town, as colorful and cheery as Halloween Town is dark and creepy. The culture shock reinvigorates him, though he and his people don’t quite get it. Still, he takes on the “Sandy Claws” role on Christmas Eve, applying his own macabre sensibility to the holiday. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
In the long history of Christmas horror, but The Nightmare Before Christmas stands out for directly juxtaposing the holiday with Halloween. Tim Burton and Henry Sellick (the film’s actual director) use their distinctive gothic aesthetic to create ghoulish distortions of familiar iconography. Everything about Halloween Town’s version of Christmas looks wrong because it is wrong, horribly and hilariously so.
On that note, the impeccable use of stop-motion animation does more than distinguish Nightmare’s look from other films. It makes everything just that bit more off-putting. Consider: you are looking at three-dimensional models, meticulously posed and re-posed on physical sets to give the illusion of life. Even the smoothest examples of this technique still invoke unnaturally moving forms.
Good Feeling All Around
For a movie that’s only 76 minutes long, The Nightmare Before Christmas packs in so much goodness. The musical numbers, conceived and often sung by Danny Elfman, are favorites even for people who haven’t seen the whole movie. Songs like “What’s This?” and “This is Halloween” have become staples for two different holidays. The sequences themselves are gorgeously shot and animated.
Jack Skellington, made up for the movie, has become the holiday icon he’s presented as here. Other characters like the wise heroine Sally, the dastardly gambler Oogie Boogie, and the ever-loyal ghost dog Zero bring color and charm to the story. The adventure, the antics, everything is just so much fun.
Many people watch this movie every holiday season. Halloween Town’s denizens conquered Christmas after all. And if Tim Burton had anything left to prove after his previous successes, he proved it.
Nightmare Before Christmas Goodies at Your WDW Store
Aside from its artistic achievements, The Nightmare Before Christmas remains a merchandising juggernaut. Wares based on the film’s iconic characters and fantastic locales proved so popular that it’s practically a subculture, or at least strongly tied to several.
Whether you identify strongly or just enjoy the flick, Your WDW Store can help. We have dozens of Nightmare Before Christmas pins that you can check out on our site.