Halloween

10 Shocking Facts About 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' You Probably Didn't Know

Let’s talk Tim Burton not directing for starters.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a confusing movie because of that hybrid effect. It’s sort of about Christmas but mostly it’s a Halloween vehicle and yet also there’s Santa... what’s a person to do? Watch it several times a year is probably a safe bet, and revel in the Jack Skellington-ness of it all. The 1993 movie is one of those classics that everyone has watched so many times they think there couldn’t possibly be a surprise left.

They’re wrong.

Tim Burton’s musical tale of the svelte Pumpkin King Jack Skellington who wants nothing more to go off script and spread Christmas joy is one for the ages. It’s just spooky enough for kids to feel like they’re getting a little thrill without being terrified, and exactly the right amount of entertaining for parents to actually like it too. While little ones might get a bit freaked out when Santa Claus gets abducted, everyone else loves it. Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the movie, “this is the kind of movie older kids will eat up; it has the kind of offbeat, subversive energy that tells them wonderful things are likely to happen.”

That holds true. But what don’t we know about the story behind the story?

Tim Burton Wasn’t The Director

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Whenever people talk about The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton’s name comes up. Of course it does. The movie has a very distinctive Burton-esque look to it, what with Jack Skellington being sort of stylish and scary at the same time a la Edward Scissorhands. But here’s the thing; he wasn’t the director. The movie was actually directed by an old colleague of his from Disney Animation Studios named Henry Selick since Burton was busy working on Batman Returns that year. This was Selick’s first feature film, but Burton did get top billing as the story came from him and he was a producer of the movie. Also everyone knows who he is so that helps.

Based On A Poem

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was based on a poem.

The movie The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually based on a poem of the same name written by Tim Burton himself when he was an animator for Disney. In 2013 director Henry Selick told The Daily Beast that Burton wrote the poem as a reimagined version of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Burton tried to pitch the idea of a stop-motion movie based on the poem to Disney in 1983, but obviously it never happened. The poem featured Jack Skellington, his dog Zero, and Santa Claus, and Burton even drew up designs for the three characters as we know them now.

The Hybrid Movie Came From Hybrid Holiday Shelves

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If you’ve noticed that Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations are basically taking up the same shelf space, you’re not alone. Tim Burton noticed too, and that mash-up of holidays is one of the things that inspired him to come up with The Nightmare Before Christmas. He explained in the DVD commentary that growing up in Burbank, California meant he didn’t really experience seasons, so he looked to holiday shelves in stores to mark the passing of time. And he couldn’t help noticing that there was a real overlap of decorations. So he decided to write a story where those two world collide.

Stop-Motion TV Special

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The Nightmare Before Christmas was created with stop-motion animation, the same form of animation used in TV specials like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, two movies that greatly inspired him. In fact, Burton admitted in the DVD commentary for the movie that his original idea was for The Nightmare Before Christmas to become a TV special much like those Rankin-Bass created originals. He pitched the idea to networks and was rejected, eventually pivoting to book publishers to also be rejected. In total, Burton estimated that this movie took 20 years to come to fruition.

Songs Before Script

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ songs came first.

When production started on The Nightmare Before Christmas, the script was not yet completed. But legendary composer Danny Elfman was already knocking it out of the park with the now-iconic songs from the movie, basing his score on tidbits Burton told him about the story. "Tim would show me sketches and drawings,” Elfman told the Los Angeles Times in 2015, “and he would tell me the story, describe it in bits of phrases and words and I would say, 'Yeah, I got it.' Three days later, I had a song.” Because of Elfman’s ingenuity, the songs were actually completed before the script was ready.

Danny Elfman Was The Singing Voice Of Jack Skellington

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Whenever Jack Skellington sings in The Nightmare Before Christmas, you’re actually hearing Danny Elfman. The famous composer, who has collaborated with Burton on 16 films over the years, didn’t expect to be the voice of Skellington at all. But that’s just how things worked out. Elfman explained on The Score podcast in 2020 that he “hadn’t started out” thinking the role of Skellington was for him, but “by the end, I was getting this mindset that was like ‘if another singer gets this part, you really better watch out for mysterious accidents.”

In an effort to keep potential singers safe, Elfman got the part.

All-Star Collaborators

Tim Burton relied on former collaborators for this movie.

Elfman wasn’t the only longtime collaborator to be hired on to help make The Nightmare Before Christmas a reality. Paul Reubens of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure voiced Lock, while Catherine O’Hara, who had previously starred in Beetlejuice, voiced both Shock and Sally (because Burton knows as well as the rest of us that her talent knows no bounds). Burton himself voiced Zero the dog, while Glen Shadix, also from Beetlejuice, voiced the Mayor of Halloweentown. Word to the wise; if you do a good job working with Tim Burton once, he’s bound to ask you to come back for another movie.

Disney Easter Eggs

There were hidden Mickey Mouse Easter eggs in the movie.

Now that The Nightmare Before Christmas is a seriously big deal, Disney loves to flaunt its involvement with the movie. But at the time, there was a struggle from the media giant to be fully included in what some could definitely call an avante-garde piece of animation, Burton noted in the DVD commentary. The company did allow a few little Disney Easter eggs in the movie, however, including a scary toy that is clearly Mickey Mouse left under a tree who attacks children. The little girl being attacked is wearing a Mickey print nightgown while the little boy is wearing Donald Duck pajamas.

No CGI Sequel Coming

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Tim Burton has no interest in Disney churning out a straight-to-streaming sequel of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Or any other type of sequel to the movie, for that matter. “I was always very protective of [Nightmare Before Christmas], not to do sequels or things of that kind,” Burton told MTV. “You know, ‘Jack visits Thanksgiving world’ or other kinds of things, just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it. Because it’s not a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it. I try to respect people and keep the purity of the project as much as possible.”

Vincent Price Was First Choice For Santa

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Selick and Burton’s top choice for the voice of Santa was Vincent Price, a legend in the world of horror movies (and of course we all remember him from the Thriller video). Price signed on to be a part of the movie, but sadly lost his wife Coral Browne in 1991. According to Selick, Price was left so grief-stricken that his voice was simply “too sad” for Santa Claus, he explained in the DVD commentary, passing the role on to Edward Ivory instead. Burton did work with Price in Edward Scissorhands, however, and had actually worked with the director back in 1983 on his stop-motion short Vincent, an homage to the man himself.