LETHE DICKINSON celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Tim Burton stop-motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas
It has been 30 years since Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was released. Which is absolutely mad!
I grew up with the film because my older siblings would play it both on the run up to Halloween and Christmas, arguing between them which holiday it was most suited for. With its prominence both in my life and popular culture, it is easy to forget that Nightmare truly paved the way for full-length stop-motion animation and fights the good fight against insipidly cheery Christmas films.
From Zero to Hero
In case you’ve not seen it, The Nightmare Before Christmas follows the disenfranchised Nightmare King of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington, as he discovers a love of Christmas and endeavours to bring it to Halloween Town. In doing so, the residents of Halloween Town take excitement to a horrifying and terrifying version of Christmas despite Jack’s efforts, leading to him ‘giving them what they want’ and depicting Santa Claus as ‘Sandy Claws’ the ‘fearsome king’ of Christmas Land. When Santa Claus is kidnapped by Oogie Boogie’s trio of miscreants, Jack works to save Christmas for Christmas Land. Yet, Halloween Town’s skewed view of the joys of Christmas only succeeds in terrifying the occupants of Christmas Land until Jack and the Frankenstein-esque Sally saves Santa and, thus, saves Christmas.
This quick synopsis does not give it justice at all! Watch it just for Zero, Jack’s cute ghost dog.
A sackful of awards!
Nightmare was directed by Henry Selick, who used a mixture of stop-motion and live action techniques to create a distinctly realistic look and create the first full-length stop-motion film from a major American studio. It is a musical, in the manner of other Disney films, and its songs are fun, catchy, and heartfelt in equal measure. While Nightmare had mediocre expectations before release, it won the ‘Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film’ after being nominated for both the ‘Academy Award for Best Visual Effects’ and the ‘Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation’.
Released in October 1993, it eclipsed its $24 million budget in its initial theatrical run with $50 million earned in the United States alone. Its popularity led to a boom in full-length stop-motion films and director Tim Burton went on to produce The Corpse Bride (2005) and kick-started Selick’s career into stop motion. Selick joined Laika studios and was one of the minds behind the award winning Coraline (2009).
To celebrate its 30th year anniversary, Nightmare got a theatrical re-release in the US and Canada and new merchandise was released. While Disney produced some, you could find new Nightmare merch on the high street, such as in Primark, and supermarkets like Asda. Clearly, Nightmare has been well loved for three decades, living in people’s imaginations since its release and bringing a modern synthesis of two holidays that could not be more dissimilar.
Add it to your Xmas list
Making Christmas scary was clearly not invented by The Nightmare Before Christmas. Dickens’ Christmas Carol and every adaptation, apart from the Muppets version (unless you’re scared of Muppets, of course) certainly made sure of that. And yet it’s the first film that springs to my mind when thinking about it.
So how, and when, did you celebrate the 30th anniversary?
Did you get all your pals together, sandwiching it between The Exorcist and Hocus Pocus, pregaming for a Halloween party? Or will you cozy up as winter sets in properly, putting up your Christmas decorations while marathoning old favourite films?
So, whenever you decide to host your annual rewatch, here's to more decades of Jack Skellington gracing our screens!
Written by Lethe Dickinson