For many of us, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become as much of a holiday tradition as the stop motion animation classics that inspired it. Jack, Sally, Zero, and the rest of Halloween Town have enchanted our imaginations (and filled our collectibles shelves) ever since the movie arrived in theaters in October 1993. Here, we look at 10 things you never knew about The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Nightmare Before Christmas began as a poem.
The Nightmare Before Christmas poem
Clement Clark Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas is more commonly referred to as The Night Before Christmas, thanks to its opening line, "'Twas the night before Christmas." Tim Burton, who grew up in Southern California, has said he was inspired by the collision of holiday decorations in stores as the seasonal sections switched from Halloween to Christmas. As he toiled away as an animator at Disney, he started to work on his own projects, too, including the poem turned stop motion animation short Vincent and a parody of The Night Before Christmas, which included Jack Skellington and his ghost dog companion, Zero.
Burton first envisioned it as a TV special.
A Nightmare Before Christmas TV special
It's no secret that The Nightmare Before Christmas was greatly inspired by stop motion holiday classics made by Rankin/Bass Productions, the company founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. Their stop motion TV specials included 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Burl Ives, 1971's Here Comes Peter Cottontail with Danny Kaye, and 1979's Jack Frost with Buddy Hackett. Burton initially pitched The Nightmare Before Christmas as something similar, which could play annually.
Disney wanted Jack to have eyes.
Jack Skellington with eyes
Understandably the studio was operating under the conventional wisdom, when it comes to animated characters and puppets, that insists on having eyes. After all, eyes are the windows to the soul, right? They help make cartoon characters relatable. But Burton was adamant that Jack Skellington roll out with his empty sockets. He won.
Disney chose to release the movie via Touchstone Films.
The Nightmare Before Christmas wasn't exactly the kind of straightforward family fare expected from Walt Disney Studios when production began in the early '90s. So Disney released it through their Touchstone Pictures brand instead, the label that released the studio's first R-Rated film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, in 1986.
The Nightmare Before Christmas wasn't directed by Tim Burton.
Henry Selick and Tim Burton
Weird right? We aren't trying to insult anyone's intelligence who knew this already and one can certainly be forgiven for making this mistake. After all, the filmmaker behind Beetlejuice and Pee Wee's Big Adventure gets top billing here. Burton came up with the story and the look and feel of the characters but The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually the directorial debut of Henry Selick. Burton, as producer, had his old colleague from Disney direct, freeing him up to finish Batman Returns.
Henry Selick gave Jack his suit.
Jack Skellington's suit
Henry Selick turned the all black outfit originally sketched by Burton into a sleek slim-fit suit. Not only was this a great choice for what would become an iconic holiday character, it also served a pragmatic purpose: the white pinstripes prevented Jack from disappearing against the many black backgrounds on film.
Vincent Price was the original voice of Santa Claus.
Vincent Price The Nightmare Before Christmas
Vincent Price was the original voice of Santa Claus (or "Sandy Claws" as Halloween Town's residents mistakenly call him). Burton idolized the horror icon and was able to convince him to narrate his 1982 short, Vincent, about a young boy who emulates the late screen legend. He was later able to cast him in Edward Scissorhands. Sadly, Price's wife passed away shortly before his work began on The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick felt he simply sounded too sad to be Santa and made the difficult choice to recast the voice role, handing it to Edward Ivory.
Patrick Stewart recorded the opening and closing narration.
Patrick Stewart Nightmare Before Christmas narration
The silver-voiced and classically trained Shakespearian actor best known around the world as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier initially served as narrator on The Nightmare Before Christmas. The filmmakers had envisioned longer opening and closing voiceovers. When they decided to pare them down, they had Edward Ivory do them instead. Stewart still appeared on the soundtrack.
Half the songs that made it into the movie were demo versions.
Nightmare Before Christmas songs
While the meticulous stop motion animation process resulted in a three-year long shoot, about half of the songs that ended up in the finished film were demo versions. Composer Danny Elfman revealed this fact during a Q&A at a 2012 Film and TV panel put on by Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. Chris Sarandon from Fright Night and The Princess Bride voices Jack Skellington, except when he's singing. Elfman laid down demo vocals for Jack's songs with the idea that another singer would eventually replace him, but producers liked his versions so much, they had him do it. Speaking of songs, over the years, Nightmare Before Christmas tunes have been reinterpreted by a wide range of artists, including Marilyn Manson and Fall Out Boy.
Jack Skellington shows up in other stop motion movies.
Jack Skellington cameos
Blink and you'll miss them. Call 'em cameos, call 'em Easter Eggs, you can even call one of them a literal egg, but the Pumpkin King actually turns up in two more of Selick's films. He's in the stop-motion/live-action adaptation of James and the Giant Peach, as a pirate captain. And his face is hidden in an egg yolk in 2009's Coraline.