Disney Films

Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas


Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas was the brainchild of, surprisingly enough, Tim Burton. Burton had been a big fan of Christmas movies since childhood, and the influence of such holiday classics as It's a Wonderful Life and Santa Claus vs. Andy Hardy can be seen in some of Burton's earlier films, including Reindeerman, Beetlenog, and Edward Tinselhands. So it makes a great deal of sense that he would want to create the ultimate Christmas film.

Burton's ideas were heavily influenced by his friend and sometimes-carpool-buddy Danny Elfman. Elfman, during his misspent youth through late thirties, headlined funky rock band Bongo Bongo, famed for its bitter songs about reptiles, dead people, and bug crushing. It was Elfman who suggested that Burton combine a delightful Christmas romp with a more sinister Halloween theme, and although Burton was skeptical that the public would embrace a dark film with his name on it, he set to work.

To make the film's atmosphere particularly odd, Burton decided to film the entire production using stop motion. In this process, actors move only inbetween clicks of the movie camera's shutter. This greatly prolongs production and is quite difficult for the performers, but results in a film that has no motion blurs and is quite striking. This, combined with brilliant sets and makeup, gives Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas a surreal, almost toylike appearance. Some characters seems so wooden that they might be china dolls or Keanu Reeves.

The plot of Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas revolves around the character of Jack Skellington (played by Johnny Depp), the pirate king of Halloween Town where every day is Halloween, even Christmas. Halloween Town is populated by a variety of monsters, including vampires, werewolves, mummies, a ten-necked multi-decapitated cyclops, zombies, etc. At one end of town lives the mayor (a three-faced rat named Eve), at the other end is an amusement park where kids can have real fatal car wrecks. In between is all manner of dangerous insanity, from a building that routinely explodes to a door that electrocutes anyone who opens it.

One day while wandering through a spooky forest outside Halloween Town, Jack finds a tree with a door carved in it and a sign that says "Do not open until Xmas." Ignoring the warning, Jack opens the door and finds that it is a gateway to Christmas Town.

Christmas Town is about as different from Halloween Town as anything Jack could imagine. The door opens beneath a train trestle, and Jack walks out from under the stone bridge to find himself in a large town where everything is clean and everyone smiles all the time no matter how expensive everything is. Even the mice are friendly. At the end of this main street, Jack discovers a circular "hub" with streets leading off into different neighborhoods and a huge castle at the far end. It turns out that Santa Claus lives in the castle, and that each neighborhood is the home of elves who make toys in keeping with their local theme (space toys, cowboy outfits, etc.)

Santa Claus is furious that someone from Halloween has invaded Christmas Town and has security escort Jack back through the door beneath the trestle. Then, just to hammer home the lesson, Santa hops on his slay and goes on a wild rampage through Halloween Town, destroying buildings, knocking over little children, and cutting off folks' heads with razor-sharp candy canes.

Being who they are, Jack and the inhabitants of Halloween Town enjoy this very much and ask Santa to come back every year. Santa's pleased to have found a new way to bring joy (while blowing off a little steam), and everyone ends up happy (or its equivalent). Santa even promises that, next year, he'll let Jack scare the heck out of Christmas Town.

Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical and includes a number of songs penned by Elfman. It is also, at its heart, a love story about the relationship between Jack and Sally -- a stitched-together creation of various discolored body parts played (in what may seem like typecasting to some) by Sally Struthers. Jack's love song about how his obsession with Christmas is drawing him away from Sally is one of the film's high points, as was the look on Disney's accountants' faces when they saw how much money the film made as it continued to be popular for years.

Never ones to shy from sequels and tie-ins, Disney has cashed in on the popularity of Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas in a number of ways, including:

  • Rereleasing the film every Halloween and every Christmas for limited runs
  • Seasonally redoing select Disneyland attractions in Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas style (with the reworkings of the Haunted Mansion and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" being particularly notable)
  • Preparing a number of sequels, including one in which New Year's Eve Town and Thanksgiving Town are combined and a bunch of guys get drunk and kill a turkey.

Trivia: Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas was referred to simply as The Nightmare Before Christmas until the Walt Disney Company acquired ABC and decided that they didn't like the film's initials.

Trivia: The character of Behemoth was voiced by the late Swedish wrestler and B-movie actor Tor Johnson.

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