One of the most unique holiday films ever made was originally inspired by the juxtaposition of Halloween and Christmas holiday decorations
that iconoclastic director Tim Burton saw in a store window. The Nightmare Before Christmas was first conceived in the form of a poem rather than a screenplay, composed by Burton in 1982 while he was working as an animator for Disney.
The story centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, who stumbles upon Christmas and decides it looks like a lot more fun than what has become his tedious task of leading Halloween festivities every year. What he finds out is that taking over someone else’s holiday, without truly understanding it, much like anything else, is a recipe for disaster.
Disney at first considered the story “too weird” and “too dark for kids,” keeping it shelved until Burton finally said ‘You guys don’t really want to do this, let me take it elsewhere.’ Not wanting to risk the project being successful elsewhere, Disney finally gave the green light.
Taking 3 years to complete with one minute of film needing roughly a week to shoot, The Nightmare Before Christmas made its debut in 1993.
Disney’s decision to release the “too scary for kids” movie under their adult “Touchstone” banner crippled the film’s debut, but the DVD release in 1997 turned the film into a cult hit. It has since been re-released several times theatrically, including in 3D, and is now considered a “Disney classic.”
The long struggle for Tim Burton’s twisted fable with a heart of gold to be born, and then be given a chance at survival, proves that there is a space in Hollywood for truly visionary artists, but only space enough for the most dedicated and most doggedly determined to survive.
The darkly baroque look of the film was highly influenced by the art of Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey, as can clearly be seen in the set designs which were heavily modeled to look like the artists’ ink illustrations.
Long before “Nightmare” became a holiday classic, Jack was making secret cameos in films.
Jack first appears in the movie Beetlejuice on the top of the carnival hat that Beetlejuice wears, look closely at the Mad Hatter’s tie in Alice in Wonderland and you’ll spot him. He's as an egg yolk in Coraline and a pirate in James and the Giant Peach.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is now a holiday classic that is a Halloween movie as much as it is a Christmas movie, which means doubling your opportunity to find someone to snuggle with by the fireplace, popcorn bowl at the ready, in preparation for perusal of a “Nightmarish” gallery of frighteningly festive fan art. Enjoy!
Nightmare Before Christmas Original Poem
It was late one fall in Halloweenland, and the air had quite a chill. Against the moon a skeleton sat, alone upon a hill. He was tall and thin with a bat bow tie; Jack Skellington was his name. He was tired and bored in Halloweenland
“I’m sick of the scaring, the terror, the fright. I’m tired of being something that goes bump in the night. I’m bored with leering my horrible glances, And my feet hurt from dancing those skeleton dances. I don’t like graveyards, and I need something new. There must be more to life than just yelling, ‘Boo!’”
Then out from a grave, with a curl and a twist, Came a whimpering, whining, spectral mist. It was a little ghost dog, with a faint little bark, And a jack–o’–lantern nose that glowed in the dark. It was Jack’s dog, Zero, the best friend he had, But Jack hardly noticed, which made Zero sad.
All that night and through the next day, Jack wandered and walked. He was filled with dismay. Then deep in the forest, just before night, Jack came upon an amazing sight.
Not twenty feet from the spot where he stood Were three massive doorways carved in wood. He stood before them, completely in awe, His gaze transfixed by one special door. Entranced and excited, with a slight sense of worry, Jack opened the door to a white, windy flurry.
Jack didn’t know it, but he’d fallen down In the middle of a place called Christmas Town! Immersed in the light, Jack was no longer haunted. He had finally found the feeling he wanted. And so that his friends wouldn’t think him a liar, He took the present filled stockings that hung by the fire. He took candy and toys that were stacked on the shelves And a picture of Santa with all of his elves. He took lights and ornaments and the star from the tree, And from the Christmas Town sign, he took the big letter C.
He picked up everything that sparkled or glowed. He even picked up a handful of snow. He grabbed it all, and without being seen, He took it all back to Halloween.
Back in Halloween a group of Jack’s peers Stared in amazement at his Christmas souvenires. For this wondrous vision none were prepared. Most were excited, though a few were quite scared!
For the next few days, while it lightninged and thundered, Jack sat alone and obsessively wondered. “Why is it they get to spread laughter and cheer While we stalk the graveyards, spreading panic and fear? Well, I could be Santa, and I could spread cheer! Why does he get to do it year after year?” Outraged by injustice, Jack thought and he thought. Then he got an idea. “Yes… yes… why not!”
In Christmas Town, Santa was making some toys When through the din he heard a soft noise. He answered the door, and to his surprise, He saw weird little creatures in strange disguise. They were altogether ugly and rather petite. As they opened their sacks, they yelled, “Trick or treat!” Then a confused Santa was shoved into a sack And taken to Halloween to see mastermind Jack.
In Halloween everyone gathered once more, For they’d never seen a Santa before And as they cautiously gazed at this strange old man, Jack related to Santa his masterful plan: “My dear Mr. Claus, I think it’s a crime That you’ve got to be Santa all of the time! But now I will give presents, and I will spread cheer. We’re changing places I’m Santa this year. It is I who will say Merry Christmas to you! So you may lie in my coffin, creak doors, and yell, ‘Boo!’ And please, Mr. Claus, don’t think ill of my plan. For I’ll do the best Santa job that I can.”
And though Jack and his friends thought they'd do a good job, Their idea of Christmas was still quite macabre. They were packed up and ready on Christmas Eve day When Jack hitched his reindeer to his sleek coffin sleigh, But on Christmas Eve as they were about to begin, A Halloween fog slowly rolled in. Jack said, “We can’t leave; this fog’s just too thick. There will be no Christmas, and I can’t be St. Nick.” Then a small glowing light pierced through the fog. What could it be?… It was Zero, Jack’s dog!
Jack said, “Zero, with your nose so bright, Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
And to be so needed was Zero’s great dream, So he joyously flew to the head of the team. And as the skeletal sleigh started its ghostly flight, Jack cackled, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas, and all though the house, Not a creature was peaceful, not even a mouse. The stockings all hung by the chimney with care, When opened that morning would cause quite a scare! The children, all nestled so snug in their beds, Would have nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads. The moon that hung over the new–fallen snow Cast an eerie pall over the city below, And Santa Claus’s laughter now sounded like groans, And the jingling bells like chattering bones. And what to their wondering eyes should appear, But a coffin sleigh with skeleton deer. And a skeletal driver so ugly and sick They knew in a moment, this can’t be St. Nick! From house to house, with a true sense of joy, Jack happily issued each present and toy. From rooftop to rooftop he jumped and he skipped, Leaving presents that seemed to be straight from a crypt! Unaware that the world was in panic and fear, Jack merrily spread his own brand of cheer.
He visited the house of Susie and Dave; They got a Gumby and Pokey from the grave. Then on to the home of little Jane Neeman; She got a baby doll possessed by a demon. A monstrous train with tentacle tracks, A ghoulish puppet wielding an ax, A man eating plant disguised as a wreath, And a vampire teddy bear with very sharp teeth.
There were screams of terror, but Jack didn't hear it, He was much too involved with his own Christmas spirit! Jack finally looked down from his dark, starry frights And saw the commotion, the noise, and the light. “Why, they’re celebrating, it looks like such fun! They’re thanking me for the good job that I’ve done.” But what he thought were fireworks meant as goodwill Were bullets and missiles intended to kill. Then amidst the barrage of artillery fire, Jack urged Zero to go higher and higher. And away they all flew like the storm of a thistle, Until they were hit by a well guided missile. And as they fell on the cemetery, way out of sight, Was heard, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.”
Jack pulled himself up on a large stone cross, And from there he reviewed his incredible loss. “I thought I could be Santa, I had such belief” Jack was confused and filled with great grief. Not knowing where to turn, he looked toward the sky, Then he slumped on the grave and he started to cry. And as Zero and Jack lay crumpled on the ground, They suddenly heard a familiar sound.
“My dear Jack,” said Santa, “I applaud your intent. I know wreaking such havoc was not what you meant. And so you are sad and feeling quite blue, But taking over Christmas was the wrong thing to do. I hope you realize Halloween’s the right place for you. There’s a lot more, Jack, that I’d like to say, But now I must hurry, for it's almost Christmas day.” Then he jumped in his sleigh, and with a wink of an eye, He said, “Merry Christmas,” and he bid them good bye.
Back home, Jack was sad, but then, like a dream, Santa brought Christmas to the land of Halloween.