The Nightmare Before Christmas


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“The Nightmare Before Christmas" just might be the best family film every created, it follows the exploits of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town. He is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween and one day in the woods he stumbles upon a door that leads to Christmas Town. There he is so overwhelmed and bedazzled by the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween Town to help him put on their very own Christmas instead of Halloween but alas, boil and boil toil and trouble ensues.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas" was the first full-length stop motion animation film ever produced. To give you some idea why that might be - Santa Claus had more than 50 different moving parts, Sally had 10 different interchangeable faces each with 11 different expressions and Jack had more than 400 separate interchangeable heads each handcrafted with a different facial expression. If that weren't enough, at the height of production, it took the animators an entire week to produce only 70 seconds of film time. Yikes. Boo-nus: In an homage to the Charlie Brown comics and cartoons, no adult faces are shown in the film.

The character Behemoth was modeled after B-Movie actor and Swedish wrestler, Tor Johnson. Tor Johnson worked with Ed Wood Jr. and was portrayed in the movie “Ed Wood" which was directed by Tim Burton.

Most people naturally assume that Tim Burton directed, “The Nightmare Before Christmas" but it was director Henry Selick that took the helm while Burton wrote and produced the massive undertaking. Selick then went on to direct the stop-motion animation film, “James and the Giant Peach". His next film, “Coraline" was written by fright-master, Neil Gaiman.

In the song, “This is Halloween", the lyrics. tender lumplings everywhere refers to the song titled, “Tender Lumplings" which was composed by Danny Elfman when he was with his band, Oingo Boingo.

Jack Skellington makes a tiny cameo appearance on top of Beetlejuiceís carousel clad hat at the end of the film, “Beetlejuice". The snake in the film is also the same Saturn Sandworm seen in Beetlejuice. Boo-nus: To create Halloween Town's distinctly twisted appearance, the artists often sketched their designs with their non-drawing hand.

Tim Burton has said he was first inspired to write the original poem the film is based on when he saw a Halloween merchandise display being removed and replaced by a Christmas setup. The juxtaposition of the dark skeletons, ghouls and goblins mixed with the bright cheery Santa and his reindeer enticed his imagination and set the wheels in motion.

Stop motion animation is a tricky business and two items plagued the production, a light failing to come on or a puppet breaking could break the production to screeching halt. So the film crew invented a “light alarm" which would warn the animators if any of the stage lights failed to come on and they developed a system that enabled a puppeteer to seamlessly switch to a replacement puppet if a puppet broke during a shot.

Painstaking as it is, there is no surprise that eventually little things might get by. Continuity between shots is always a hassle for any film and this one is no different. One distinct one can be seen when Jack shows Lock, Stock and Barrel the Christmas tree cookie. At first the frosting side of the cookie is facing toward them, but in a following shot it is reversed and the frosting side is facing away from them. Yeesh, oh the humanity.

Actor Chris Sarandon provided the speaking voice for Jack Skellington, but Danny Elfman, the film's composer and long time collaborator with Tim Burton, supplied Jack's singing voice. Elfman also gave a voice to the character, Barrel and the Clown with the Tearaway Face. Boo-nus: In the movie, Santa's “naughty or nice" list is made of two thin layers of paper with a thin layer of aluminum foil sandwiched between them. This kept the paper list from moving around between shots. After all it takes 24 shots (frames) to make a single second of film. Aye-yi-yi!

Catherine O'Hara, who was also in Burton's “Beetlejuice" gave her voice for Jackís girlfriend, Sally, as well as for the character, Shock. Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman, supplied the voice for the Lock character. Tim Burton directed both Pee-Wee Herman big screen films.

When the film was first released they had a marketing campaign with Burger King. Together, the Burger King and Pumpkin King parlayed a collection of digital watches in honor of the film. I've still got mine in its original box. I got it at the Burger King across the street from the theatre where I first saw the film in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was opening weekend and there were two celebrities in the theatre that night. Actress Samantha Mathis and her then boyfriend, River Phoenix. It was great to see that they loved the film just as much as everyone else that night. Unfortunately for all, River Phoenix died a few days later in Los Angeles from drug induced heart failure. This Halloween marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. RIP, River Phoenix.

To read more articles by Chad, visit the American Pop Culture Encyclopedia at: American Pop Culture Encyclopedia .

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