Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Background information
Release date
Stile stop-motion
Directed by Henry Selick
Based on
Company Skellington Productions
Running Time 75 minutes
Produced by Tim Burton
Denise Di Novi
2006 reissue:
Don Hahn
Music By Danny Elfman
Language English
Written By Story
Tim Burton
Danny Elfman
Michael McDowell
Caroline Thompson
Film information
Budget $18 million
Gross 1993:
$50 million
$8.7 million
$15.8 million
$1.1 million
Cinematografy Pete Kozachik
Edited By Stan Webb
Distributed By 1993 release:
Touchstone Pictures
Disney Digital 3-D:
Walt Disney Pictures

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 fantasy stop motion film directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. The film recieved mostly good critics.


In Halloween town monsters, vampires and goblins prepare for Halloween, their favourite festival. Their leader Jack Skelington however is bored with Halloween. When 31st of October arrives Jack and his ghost dog Zero walk away into the woods. Jack and Zero soon find themselves in a wood were there were doors of all shapes and colours in the trees. Jack finds a door the shape of a Christmas tree, which he opens. Jack is then dragged by the wind inside the door to find himself in Christmas town. The festival fascinates Jack and he decides to bring the festival to Halloween town to replace it with Halloween. Jack mobilizes every citizen of Halloween town to prepare for their new festival, however the monsters get a wrong idea of Christmas and confuse it as an even scarier version of Halloween festival. The only creature who understood Christmas was Jack's love interest Sally a rag doll created by a scientist Dr. Fickelstein. Her job was to create a Santa suit for Jack, while her creator had the job to create eight reindeer for Jack. Jack's himself was going to take Santa's job and give Santa a holyday, for this he gives three trick o treater children Lock, Shock and Barell the job to bring Santa to him, so he could take his place. The children decide to tell their master, Oogie Boogie, who is also the film's antagonist, about their job. Oogie Boogie orders them to kidnap Santa and bring the old man to him, so he could cook him and make his soup of bugs tastier. Lock, Shock and Barell bring Santa to Jack, who instructs them to bring Santa to a comfortable place for his holydays. Instead, the children bring him to Oogie Boogie's dungeon. Meanwhile, Jack gets ready for Christmas, Sally puts on his Santa suit while the creatures give him the sleight (a vampire chest) and the toys (which were actually quiet dangerous), Dr. Fickelstein brings him the reindeer (actually skeleton reindeers). Sally knew this was a bad thing and tried to stop Jack to leave with the very dense fog. Jack, however, had read Christmas stories like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and decided to use his ghost dog Zero (who had a shiny red nose like Rudolph) to guide him. Jack brings toys to every house in the real world without knowing that it actually scared the people in the houses. The people call the police the police calls the army, which set their guns ready to shoot Jack down. When Jack flies over them, the army starts to shoot. One missile hits the sleight and Jack falls into a graveyard to his presumed death. The people in Halloween town, who had seen Jack across a magic mirror, start to spread the bad news of his death. Meanwhile Sally tries to save Santa, so he could save Jack. However the plan fails and both Santa and Sally are trapped once again by Oogie Boogie. When the bad news of Jack's death reaches them, Oogie laughs. But Jack survived the fall and got some sense about his real identity, that he is the king of Halloween and not of Christmas. So he and Zero decide to find Santa to save Christmas. Just when Oogie throws Santa and Sally into the boiling water, Jack arrives and saves them. Oogie Boogie is furious and tries to kill Jack. But Jack is too quick for him and pulls a string hanging from Oogie's arm, which unties his skin and reveals that Oogie Boogie is actually a sack filled with bugs in it. The Bugs escape, but fall on the boiling water and die. After that there is nothing left of Oogie Boogie. Jack apologizes to Santa for ruining his holyday and Santa, being Santa, forgives him. Santa saves Christmas and Jack and Sally come back to Halloween town. The town people welcome Jack and Sally back. When Santa flies over Halloween town he makes it snow. Jack and Sally finally reveal their love to each other, while a Christmas star shines over them.


Burton wrote a three-page poem titled The Nightmare Before Christmas when he was a Disney animator in the early-1980s. Burton took inspiration from television specials of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. With the success of Vincent in 1982, Disney started to consider The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short subject or a 30-minute Holiday television special. Rick Heinrichs and Burton created concept art and storyboards, with Heinrichs also sculpting character models. "Back then, I would have done anything to get the project off ground", Burton explained. "There was a lot of talk of either a short film, like Vincent or a TV special, but it went nowhere. I also wanted to have Vincent Price as narrator." Burton showed Henry Selick, who was also a Disney animator in the early-1980s, the material he and Heinrichs developed.

Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project. In 1990, Burton found out that Disney still owned the film rights, and the two committed to produce a full-length film with Selick as director. Disney was looking forward to Nightmare "to show capabilities of technical and storytelling achievements that were present in Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Nightmare marked Burton's third film in a row to have a Christmas setting. Burton could not direct because of his commitment to Batman Returns and he did not want to be involved with "the painstakingly slow process of stop-motion". To adapt his poem into a screenplay, Burton approached Michael McDowell, his collaborator on Beetlejuice. McDowell and Burton experienced creative differences, which convinced Burton to make the film as a musical with lyrics and compositions by frequent collaborator Danny Elfman. Elfman and Burton created a rough storyline and two-thirds of the film's songs, while Selick and his team of animators began production in July 1991 in San Francisco, California with a crew of 200 workers. Joe Ranft worked as a storyboard artist, while Paul Berry was hired as an animation supervisor.

Elfman found writing Nightmare's 10 songs as "one of the easiest jobs I've ever had. I had a lot in common with Jack Skellington." Caroline Thompson still had yet to be hired to write the screenplay. With Thompson's screenplay, Selick stated. "There are very few lines of dialogue that are Caroline's. She became busy on other films and we were constantly rewriting, reconfiguring and developing the film visually." The work of Ray Harryhausen, Ladislas Starevich, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Jan Lenica, Francis Bacon and Wassily Kandinsky influenced the filmmakers. Selick described the production design as akin to a pop-up book. In addition, Selick stated, "When we reach Halloween Town, it's entirely German Expressionism. When Jack enters Christmas Town, it's an outrageous Dr. Seuss setpiece. Finally, when Jack is delivering presents in the "Real World", everything is plain, simple, and perfectly aligned."

On the direction of the film, Selick reflected, "It's as though he [Burton] laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn't involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like "a Tim Burton film", which is not so different from my own films." When asked on Burton's involvement, Selick claimed, "I don't want to take away from Tim, but he was not in San Francisco when we made it. He came up five times over two years, and spent no more than eight or ten days in total." Walt Disney Animation Studios contributed with some use of second-layering traditional animation. Burton found production somewhat difficult because he was directing Batman Returns and in pre-production of Ed Wood.

The filmmakers constructed 227 puppets to represent the characters in the movie, with Jack Skellington having "around four hundred heads", allowing the expression of every possible emotion. Sally's mouth movements "were animated through the replacement method. During the animation process, only Sally's face 'mask' was removed in order to preserve the order of her long red hair. Sally had ten types of faces, each made with a series of eleven expressions (e.g. eyes open and closed, and various facial poses) and synchronised mouth movements."


The owners of the franchise have undertaken an extensive marketing campaign of these characters across many media. In addition to the "Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland" featuring "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas characters," Jack Skellington, Sally, Pajama Jack, and the mayor have been made into Bendies figures, while Jack and Sally even appear in fine art. Moreover, Sally has been made into an action figure and a Halloween costume. Jack is also the titular character in the short story "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack's story."

Oddly enough, Jim Edwards actually contends that "Tim Burton's animated movie The Nightmare Before Christmas is really a movie about the marketing business. The movie's lead character, Jack Skellington, the chief marketing officer (CMO) for a successful company decides that his success is boring and he wants the company to have a different business plan. Some have wondered which real-life company failure the movie is based on: Sergio Zyman's New Coke or Merck's launch and subsequent withdrawal of Vioxx."


The film's soundtrack album was released in 1993 on Walt Disney Records. For the film's 2006 re-release in Disney Digital 3-D, a special edition of the soundtrack was released, featuring a bonus disc which contained covers of several of the film's songs by Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple and She Wants Revenge. Six original demo tracks by Elfman were also included. On September 30, 2008, Disney released the cover album Nightmare Revisited.


Walt Disney Pictures decided to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner because they thought Nightmare would be "too dark and scary for kids". Selick remembered, "Their biggest fear, and why it was kind of a stepchild project, [was] they were afraid of their core audience hating the film and not coming. It wasn't too dark, too scary. Kids love to get scared. In fact, I don't think it's too scary at all. Even little, little kids, as young as three, a lot of them love that film and respond well to it." To help market the film "it was released as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," Burton explained. "But it turned more into more of a brand-name thing, it turned into something else, which I'm not quite sure about."

Around the release of the film, Touchstone president David Hoberman quoted, "I hope Nightmare goes out and makes a fortune. If it does, great. If it doesn't, that doesn't negate the validity of the process. The budget was less than any Disney blockbuster so it doesn't have to earn Aladdin-sized grosses to satisfy us." The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 9. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was given a limited release on October 15, 1993, before being wide released on October 29. The film earned $50 million in the United States on its first theatrical run.

Danny Elfman was worried the characterization of Oogie Boogie would be considered racist by National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Elfman's predictions came true; however, director Henry Selick stated the character was inspired by the Betty Boop cartoon The Old Man of the Mountain. "Cab Calloway would dance his inimitable jazz dance and sing "Minnie the Moocher" or "Old Man of the Mountain", and they would rotoscope him, trace him, turn him into a cartoon character, often transforming him into an animal, like a walrus," Selick continued. "I think those are some of the most inventive moments in cartoon history, in no way racist, even though he was sometimes a villain. We went with Ken Page, who is a black singer and he had no problem with it". The film was nominated for both the Academy Award for Visual Effects and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost both categories to Jurassic Park. Nightmare won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, while Elfman won Best Music. Selick and the animators were also nominated for their work. Elfman lost the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score to Kitarō of Heaven & Earth.

Critical ReceptionEdit

The film has gone on to receive critical acclaim. Based on 69 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of the critics enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas with the consensus of "a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation." With 15 reviewers in the "Top Critics" category, the film has a 100% approval rating. By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 77, based on 16 reviews. Roger Ebert, who mainly was not enthusiastic over Burton's previous films, gave a highly positive review for Nightmare. Ebert believed the film's visual effects were as revolutionary as Star Wars, taking into account that Nightmare was "filled with imagination that carries us into a new world".

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it a restoration of "originality and daring to the Halloween genre. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. ... It's 74 minutes of timeless movie magic." James Berardinelli stated, "The Nightmare Before Christmas has something to offer just about everyone. For the kids, it's a fantasy celebrating two holidays. For the adults, it's an opportunity to experience some light entertainment while marvelling at how adept Hollywood has become at these techniques. There are songs, laughs, and a little romance. In short, The Nightmare Before Christmas does what it intends to: entertain." Desson Thomson of The Washington Post enjoyed stylistic features in common with Oscar Wilde, German Expressionism, the Brothers Grimm and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Michael A. Morrison discusses the influence of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the film, writing that Jack parallels the Grinch and Zero parallels Max, the Grinch's dog. Philip Nel writes that the film "challenges the wisdom of adults through its trickster characters" contrasting Jack as a "good trickster" with Oogie Boogie, whom he also compares with Dr. Seuss's Dr. Terwilliker, as a bad trickster. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic see the characters as presented in a more negative light and criticize the film's characters as having racial constructs, with the protagonists using "whitespeak" and the antagonist, Oogie Boogie, using "blackspeak." Entertainment Weekly reports that fan reception of these characters borders on obsession, profiling "Laurie and Myk Rudnick a couple who are extremely interested in the motion picture The Nightmare Before Christmas. Their degree of obsession with that film is so great that...they named their son after the real-life person that a character in the film is based on." This enthusiasm for the characters has spread beyond North America to Japan."

Yvonne Tasker notes "the complex characterization seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas," Most recently, the film ranked #1 on Rotten Tomatoes Top 25 Best Christmas Movies.

With successful home video sales, Nightmare achieved the ranks of a cult film. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment first released the film on DVD in December 1997. It contained no special features. Nightmare was released a second time in October 2000 as a special edition. The release included audio commentary by Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, a 28-minute making-of documentary, gallery of concept art, and storyboards, test footage and deleted scenes. Burton's Vincent and Frankenweenie were also included. On October 20, 2006, Disney reissued Nightmare (not under Touchstone Pictures) with conversion to Disney Digital 3-D. Industrial Light & Magic assisted in the process. It made a further $8.7 million in the box office. Subsequently, the 3-D version of Nightmare has been re-released annually in October. The 2007 and 2008 reissues earned a $14.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively, increasing the film's total box office gross to $74.7 million. Nightmare has also been reissued again for 2009's Halloween season.

These reissues have led to a re-emergence of 3-D films and advances in Real D Cinema. Disney released the film again on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in August 2008 as a two-disc digitally remastered "collector's edition". Nightmare has also become a brand name for the Goth subculture, and inspired video game spin-offs, including Oogie's Revenge and The Pumpkin King and is among the many Disney-owned franchises that contribute to the mythology of the Kingdom Hearts series. A trading card game is also available. Since 2001, Disneyland has held a Nightmare Before Christmas theme for its Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction.

Jamie Frater ranks the film first on a list of Top 10 Kids' Movies Adults Will Love, calling the film, "One of the most memorable and wonderful family films ever. Christmas, Halloween, and Tim Burton, how can it miss? The soundtrack from Danny Elfman is amazing, with witty, beautiful tunes and lyrics. Jack is perfectly realized as the 'town hero' who seeks more in his life (or death, as it may be), a place we all find ourselves time to time. Sally is lovelorn and pines for Jack to not only love her, but to just notice her. Incredibly animated by Henry Selick, based on Tim Burton's original story, NBX has become a cult classic a true masterpiece."

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(Original 1993) The Nightmare Before Christmas Trailer

(Original 1993) The Nightmare Before Christmas Trailer

Nightmare Before Christmas original trailer from 1993.

  Films Directed by Henry Selick edit

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) · James and the Giant Peach (1996)


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