The Nightmare Before Christmas cast..


Original medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: Disney (as Touchstone Pictures)
First Appeared: 1993
Creator: Tim Burton
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By the 1990s, frightening themes in Disney cartoons were nothing new. Donald Duck and his nephews had an adventure with a Halloween witch in 1952. Mickey Mouse came up …

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… against a really scary mad scientist in 1933. The very first Silly Symphony, which came out in 1928, was about skeletons dancing in a graveyard. But when the studio premiered The Nightmare Before Christmas, on October 13, 1993 (the general release was on the 22nd), it seemed enough of a departure from traditional Disney fare, that it was decided to do the release under the name "Touchstone Pictures", which the studio used for films with more mature themes, rather than the Disney name itself.

The film was produced by Tim Burton (Beetlejuice), whose more familiar role was directing, as he'd done with the 1990s Batman movies. (The director of this one was Henry Selick, whose other credits include Monkeybone.) But director or not, Burton instigated the film, which was based, loosely at least, on his drawings and poetry — ultimately inspired, he stated, by seeing the juxtaposition between Halloween and Christmas decorations as a store made its calendar-mandated switch from one major holiday to the next. So closely is Burton associated with the movie, its official full title is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Before Christmas concerned Jack Skellington, the "Pumpkin King" of Halloween Town, who found life in his realm becoming empty and repetitious. Journeying afield, he discovered Christmas Town and its monarch, Santa Claus (whose name he misheard as "Sandy Claws"), and took enough interest to attempt to hijack Christmas so he and his own subjects could do it "right". But the people of Halloween Town, whose outlook was shaped by their own holiday, didn't quite "get" Christmas, and their lack of understanding threatened to spoil both holidays.

Jack's speaking voice was done by Chris Sarandon, who is far better known for face than voice acting; and his singing voice by Danny Elfman, who composed the theme song to The Simpsons. The other holiday representative, Santa Claus, was Edward Ivory, also more a face actor than a voice man. The lead female character, Sally (a rag doll secretly in love with Jack), was Catherine O'Hara (Penny in Over the Hedge). Oogie Boogie, the only character who was truly evil rather than simply unable to think outside his own Halloween-shaped box, was Ken Page (King Gator in All Dogs Go to Heaven). Other voices include, among others, Glenn Shadix (a couple of villains in TV productions of The Teen Titans), Paul Reubens (Freaky Frankenstone in The Flintstones Comedy Show) and Kerry Katz (Brigand in The Princess & the Cobbler). It's likely Disney wouldn't have produced Nightmare Ned four years later, without this feature to pave the way.

Jack Skellington's story was hailed as a masterpiece of stop-motion animation, a fine example of the medium pioneered by George Pal in his Puppetoons series. Its level of popular acceptance was also impressive. It inspired not just one but a series of video games, as well as books, toys and other merchandising. There was even a comic book, but not in America — the adaptation into manga by cartoonist Jun Asaga was published by Kodansha Ltd. (Sailor Moon), Japan's biggest comics publisher, and later translated into English by Disney.

In the years since its original release, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been seen on TV, home video and, of course, in theatrical re-releases. It hasn't been around as long as Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio or even The Little Mermaid, but like them, has become one of the medium's classics.


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Text ©2007-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Company.