The Nightmare Before Christmas | the filmmakers reflect on its unexpected success

The Nightmare Before Christmas
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On The Nightmare Before Christmas’ 30th anniversary, Henry Selick and Tim Burton have been reflecting on their film’s widespread popularity.

When you walk into a Disney Store in October nowadays, you’ll inevitably be faced with The Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise of all kinds. It’s a wonderland of T-shirts, toys, and all manner of items to express love for the now-30-year-old cult classic. Disney, however, was not always so eager to embrace the stop motion animated movie directed by Henry Selick and produced (and based on a poem by) Tim Burton.

The musical told the story of Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween Town, who becomes tired of tricks and intent on handing out treats instead as he decides to take over the Christmas holiday. Potential spoilers here: it doesn’t go as planned.

On release in 1993 the studio did everything it could to distance itself from the movie. It was released through Disney subsidiary Touchstone Pictures, with no Disney name or logo near it. Touchstone was reserved for the studio’s more ‘adult’ filmography, so it clearly had no confidence in the film connecting with families. 30 years later, and it’s clear Disney couldn’t have been more wrong about The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It became a sleeper hit, and has since enjoyed multiple re-releases in cinemas, as well as a variety of physical media releases. That includes a special 4K edition for its 30th anniversary.

Tim Burton and Henry Selick have themselves been reflecting on the film’s unexpected success at it reaches a milestone birthday. “Anytime you’re doing something like that, which was unknown: stop motion, the main character doesn’t have any eyeballs and it’s all music, what’s to feel comfortable about?” Burton told The New York Times. “Of course they would be nervous about it.”

Tim Burton
Tim Burton produced and came up with the story for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Henry Selick was initially upset that the film’s title – Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – obscured his efforts as director. However, he’s become less bothered by this in recent years. He says that the movie could never have happened without “Tim’s brilliance and ideas.” He’s also come up with an excellent money making scheme to capitalise on the public’s lack of awareness.

“I could still certainly win bar bets for the rest of my life. For $20, who directed ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas?’’”

He adds that he sees fans wearing merchandise everywhere he goes. “This year there’s a 13-foot-tall Jack Skellington you can buy at Home Depot, and people have them on their lawns,” Selick said. “I like that because it’s pretty bizarre and extreme. That’s not just a T-shirt, that’s a real commitment.” We’d be inclined to agree.

For Selick, the real joy comes from seeing children dressing up as the film’s character to go trick or treating on Halloween. It was something he’d seen even before Disney had fully embraced the movie and re-released it under its own banner. “I’d sometimes bring them in with their parents and show them the original figure of Jack as Santa in his sled with the reindeer that I kept, and they would just scream with joy,” he recalls. “It’s not really mine or Tim’s or Danny’s anymore. It’s the world’s movie, and I kind of like that.”

Despite a Sally-focused sequel novel a prequel comic being published in the last year, Tim Burton is adamant that part of The Nightmare Before Christmas' magic is that it’s a stand alone story. “In a certain way that’s the beautiful thing about it as it is. It’s one movie. It’s stop motion and it tells its story. And that helps make it special for me. It’s its own thing, there aren’t five sequels and there’s not a live-action reboot.”

Disney has remade so many of its animated classics in live action, and many of them haven’t added much to the original tales. For that reason, Burton’s comments are very encouraging. A live action Jack Skellington would be incredibly uncanny. We’ll stick with the original, thanks.

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