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15 The Nightmare Before Christmas Facts You Never Knew


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. And with it now so readily available to watch on Disney+, it appears that tradition isn’t going away any time soon.


Despite the movie still being as enduringly popular as ever, there are many things even hardcore fans may not know about the mishmash holiday film. So, in the interest of learning something new, here’s a look at 15 things you never knew about The Nightmare Before Christmas.


15 The Nightmare Before Christmas Began as a Poem

Buena Vista Pictures

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.

14 Burton First Envisioned It as a TV Special

Nightmare Before Christmas characters hold hands
Disney

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.

13 The Nightmare Before Christmas Wasn’t Directed by Tim Burton

Tim Burton and Henry Selick BTS on The Nightmare Before Christmas

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.

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Burton, as producer, had his old colleague from Disney direct, freeing him up to finish Batman Returns. It turns out that the confusion hasn’t gone unnoticed by Selick, who is less than impressed that he is often not credited as the film’s director.

12 It Took Three Years to Make

The Nightmare Before Christmas behind the scenes

At only 76 minutes long, The Nightmare Before Christmas is certainly at the short end of what constitutes a feature film. It might be surprising then to learn that the film took three years to make. This is largely because a stop-motion movie on this scale hadn’t been done before, with just one minute of film taking a whole week to make and the film as a whole consisting of over 100,000 frames in total. As well as taking lots of time, it also required a great deal of manpower. -120 crew members are thought to have played a role in bringing the film to life. All in all, not an easy job.

11 Over 200 Puppets Were Used

The Nightmare Before Christmas characters

In the film, the towns of Halloween and Christmas are populated by an array of whacky characters, all with their own unique look. In total, more than 200 different puppets were created during production, each coming with their own selection of facial expressions. In fact, Jack Skellington alone had 400 different expressions to convey a range of emotions.

10 Disney Wanted Jack to Have Eyes

Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas looking at Christmas lights with a smile
Buena Vista Pictures

Understandably, the studio was operating under the conventional wisdom when it comes to animated characters and puppets that insist 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.

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9 Henry Selick Gave Jack His Suit

Jack is holding a Christmas present in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

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, but it also served a pragmatic purpose: the white pinstripes prevented Jack from disappearing against the many black backgrounds on film.

8 Vincent Price Was the Original voice of Santa Claus

Santa-NightmareBeforeChristmas-TouchstonePictures
Touchstone Pictures

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.

7 Disney Chose to Release the Movie via Touchstone Films

Touchstone logo

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. Yet following the film’s recent resurgence in popularity, later rerelease now put the classic Disney logo before it.

6 It Was Nominated for an Oscar

Jack Skellington dressed up as Santa Claus with a present in his hands delivering it to a child in The Nightmare Before Christmas
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Upon its release, the film was widely praised among critics who praised its originality, mix of laughs and scares, and stunning visuals. In fact, people were so impressed with how the film looked that it ended up earning an Academy Award nomination at the 66th annual ceremony in 1993 for Best Visual Effects. What’s even more impressive is that this was the first time an animated film had been nominated in this category.

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Unfortunately, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t end up winning, with Jurassic Park taking home the prize instead. However, the film did pick up two Saturn Awards as well as a Golden Globe nomination, so it didn’t do too badly.

5 Patrick Stewart Recorded the Opening and Closing Narration

macbeth-patrick-stewart
BBC Four

Patrick Stewart, the silver-voiced, classically trained Shakespearian actor best known around the world as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek franchise and Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men films, 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.

4 Oogie Boogie Was Originally Meant to be Dr. Finkelstein in Disguise

Oogie Boogie in The Nightmare Before Christmas
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Within the film’s narrative, the character of Oogie Boogie is a wicked bogeyman comprised of a sack filled with creepy crawlies and who has a passion for gambling. Unsurprisingly, he’s the film’s main antagonist and has become a favorite among fans. However, in an early draft of the script, Oogie was revealed to be Dr. Finkelstein, Sally’s overbearing mad scientist father, in disguise. This would’ve been an unnecessary twist, and the film is all the better for cutting it.

3 Half the Songs That Made It Into the Movie Were Demo Versions

Jack Skellington observing a snow crystal
Walt Disney Pictures

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.

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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.

2 Mickey Mouse Makes a Cameo

The Nightmare Before Christmas

It might not be your typical Disney film, but nevertheless, The Nightmare Before Christmas leans into the fact that it is a product of the House of Mouse by featuring a cameo by Mickey himself. In the film, when the children of the real world are receiving presents from Sandy Claws, one of the children can be seen wearing pajamas with Mickey Mouse’s face on. Meanwhile, their sibling appears to be wearing ones covered in the face of Donald Duck.

1 Jack Skellington Shows Up in Other Stop-Motion Movies

Jack Skellington cameo in James and the Giant Peach

Blink, and you’ll miss them. Call them cameos, call them 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. Jack Skellington has now become a Mickey Mouse cameo character in his own right.

If you’re looking for more great holiday stuff to watch before the end of the year but in quicker short-form, check out our list of the best Christmas-themed TV episodes of all time below:



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