Christmas Entertainment

What's This? THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS Celebrates 30 Years

As Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 30, its enduring magic still enchants audiences with a timeless blend of spooky delight and festive holiday magic.

by | October 26, 2023

New artwork for 30th Anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas

Can you believe it, boy and ghouls? It’s been 30 years since Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas debuted in theaters. Hard to imagine that a simple poem Burton wrote while working as a Disney animator would become such a cultural phenomenon. And Disney is pulling out all the stops to celebrate from Halloween until Christmas. Starting October 20th, 2023, the holiday classic returned to cinemas all across the United States and Canada for a limited time. Throughout late October, fans can expect special screenings, lots of spooky merchandise, and a weekend concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Get ready for a spooky good time that will last until the end of the year!

Be Careful Watch You Wish For

In the film The Nightmare Before Christmas and the poem it’s based on, every major holiday has its own fantastical town. And Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween Town, is tired of the never-ending scares and screams. Desperate for change, he walks all night and stumbles upon the wonderfully festive Christmas Town. He becomes so entranced by the festivities that he decides to take over the holiday and make it his own. Yet by adding his own brand of cheer to this beloved day, all his hard-laid plans go horribly awry.

Along with Jack (Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman-singing), we come to know Jack’s ghost dog Zero (Frank Welker), Santa Claus himself (Ed Ivory), and three mischievous trick-or-treaters (Paul Reubens, Catherine O’Hara, Elfman). The film also introduces us to a literal boogie man (Ken Page), a two-faced mayor (Glenn Shadix), and Sally (O’Hara), a Frankenstein-esque ragdoll who serves as Halloween Town’s main voice of reason.

Behind the Scenes of a Cult Masterpiece

Burton had lots of inspiration when writing the original poem in 1982. He first got the idea when he saw stores taking down their Halloween decor to make room for Christmas and was struck by the juxtaposition. He also drew upon old holiday specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, along with the classic poem, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas.’ For years, he debated what to do with his new work, wanting to make it either a TV special or children’s book — both of which were deemed “too strange” for Disney. Then in 1990, after becoming a commercially successful director, he decided on a full-length stop-motion film, complete with musical numbers written by his go-to composer, Danny Elfman.

The production itself was massive, with 120 crew members, 20 sound stages, and 227 puppets. In total, it took three years to prep, shoot, and edit 109,440 frames of film. And while it’s still very much his story and vision, many forget that Burton didn’t actually direct the film himself. He was busy directing Batman Returns at the time and was about to start pre-production for Ed Wood. So he brought on fellow Disney animator Henry Selick, who would later direct 1996’s James and the Giant Peach and 2009’s Coraline. Despite having only done shorts beforehand, he perfectly matched Burton’s vision and style — from Edward Gorey-esque Halloween Town to the Dr. Seuss vibes of Christmas Town.

The Unexpected Holiday Classic Before Christmas

Although Nightmare Before Christmas is a Disney property, it wasn’t marketed that way at first. The company first released it under their adult-centered Touchstone Pictures, as they initially thought it would be “too dark and scary for kids.” It was first screened at the New York Film Festival on October 9, 1993, received limited release on the 13th, and then a worldwide release on the 29th. Despite being a modest success upon release, the movie’s popularity exploded thanks to years of high-ranking video and DVD sales. With help from extensive merchandise and its popularity in the alternative scene, the film was quickly elevated to cult status.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has since been rereleased multiple times in theaters, now proudly under the Disney label. They’ve also given us picture books, collectible card games, and video game spin-offs such as Oogie’s Revenge. Kingdom Hearts fans have happily visited Halloween Town in the original game and its sequels. And every year, holiday buyers find themed decorations such as ornaments, stockings, string lights, and animatronics at almost any store from Hot Topic to Home Depot. Yet, to this day, many still debate whether this movie is more fit for Halloween or Christmas. In a previous interview with ComicBook, director Selick said he’s embraced the duality of this film’s theme and legacy and encouraged fans to do the same.

“I saw it as a mashup, that it’s both [a Christmas and Halloween movie.] Then subsequently, when we actually made the film as a feature, I might have tended to answer one way, but I’ve arrived at the original feeling. It is a mashup. It is a perfect collision between those two holidays. So, there’s no better answer than both. It is both, and it’s its own thing. It’s a great celebration of Halloween that can last all the way into Christmas.”

Henry Selick, Director

Celebrate Three Decades of Spooky Festive Fun

As we said, Disney is going all out for this special anniversary. Along with screenings across North America, the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood will host a special 4D showing — that’s 3D with in-theater effects. Los Angeles can also look forward to the annual concert at the Hollywood Bowl from October 27th, 2023 to the 29th. Get ready for Danny Elfman and Ken Page to sing once again for Jack and Oogie Boogie, respectively. The cast also features Halsey filling in for Sally on the 27th and 28th, along with Fred Armisen as Lock and Riki Lindholm as Shock. And if you’re going on the 29th, expect to see Catherine O’Hara returning to sing ‘Sally’s Song.’

And if you can’t make it to a special screening, Disney’s got plenty of commemorative merchandise and collectibles, from new clothing to a Starbucks tumbler. The Elf Squad is big fans of the new Legacy Sketchbook Jack and Zero ornament — complete with pewter, a glass dome, and the number 30. And if your walls are a little empty right now, why not purchase the brand-new commissioned artwork created by Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number On? You can find these online or at any of the Disney theme parks, and even pick up a spooky popcorn bucket while you’re there. 

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is back in select cinemas for a limited time and will air on both ABC and the Disney Channel a few more times before Christmas. And, of course, streamers can find it on Disney+ any time of year.

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