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10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Nightmare Before Christmas

It’s that time of year again, and as Sandy Claws comes to town, we’re looking back at a Christmas classic – or should that be a Halloween staple? It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since The Nightmare Before Christmas crawled from the crypt and set its stall as one of the best animated movies of all time.

The spooky stop-motion showstopper took us to Halloween Town in 1993, telling the story of Jack Skellington and his botched attempt to spread a little festive cheer. With its creepy but charming aesthetic and toe-tapping soundtrack from Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas is also famous for losing out to Jurassic Park for that year’s Best Visual Effects Academy Award. 

We’re sure you think you know the story by now, but here are 10 things you (might not) know about The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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Directorial Confusion 

With The Nightmare Before Christmas’ full title being Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s a long-running mistake that the Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands director also directed this Christmas cracker. In fact, Henry Selick gets the honor of directing The Nightmare Before Christmas, with Selick since being known for directing the likes of the Nightmare-esque Coraline. 

Burton still served as a Producer, wrote the story, and was close to the movie. Selick said the pair only disagreed on one thing during production. Discussing Nightmare for Netflix’s The Holiday Movies That Made Us, Selick said Burton hated the alternate ending (more on that later) and kicked a hole in the wall. 

It Was Years in the Making

Even if Burton didn’t direct, Nightmare was a passion project for him. Based on a three-page poem of the same name that Burton wrote in 1982 while working for Walt Disney Feature Animation, the original story only featured the characters of Jack, Zero and Santa. Inspired by 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Burton was also influenced by his life growing up in Burbank, California.

Burton showed the storyboard concept to Selick, and around this time, Disney toyed with developing it as a TV special. He was consequently fired and went to work on Batman, but realizing Disney still owned the film rights, he’d eventually return to the project around 1990. As Burton was committed to Batman Returns, Selick took the reins. 

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Even though Disney wanted to continue its winning streak of the Disney renaissance, fears that the movie would be too dark for kids saw it released under the Touchstone banner. Still, Nightmare has gone on to become a cult classic, being rereleased as recently as October 2023 with 4DX. On the 2008 Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD release, Christoper Lee narrates Burton’s original poem – accompanied by new visuals. 

A Tale of Two Jacks

If you look at the cast list for The Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll notice that frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman is listed alongside Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington. As well as composing the lyrical genius of the movie, Elfman was due to play the lead. Unfortunately, he apparently was considered too wooden for the dialogue. 

Sarandon was brought on for Jack’s speaking lines, leaving Elfman to provide his singing voice. The pair seamlessly blend together in the final result, meaning it’s hard to tell the difference.

Elfman is also credited for the voices of Barrel and Clown with the Tear-Away face. There’s one final cameo, and if you’re looking closely, you might notice Elfman’s likeness as one of the musicians in the band that plays outside Jack’s house.

A Villainous Twist

Dr. Finkelstein

The big bad of The Nightmare Before Christmas is Ken Page’s Oogie Boogie, while William Hickey’s Dr. Finkelstein serves as something of a secondary antagonist. In an early draft, the two were going to be one and the same, with a late-movie twist revealing it’s the wannabe Frankenstein under Oogie’s suit.

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Along with he Finkelstein twist feeling a little convoluted for this pretty simplistic story, we get the altogether more harrowing reveal that Oogie is made up of thousands of bugs. Burton clearly wasn’t a fan of the twist, leading to the infamous wall kick. Looking back, Selick has referred to it as a “Scooby-Doo” twist. Interestingly, Finkelstein is referred to several times in the movie but is only named as “Evil Scientist” in the credits. 

Casting Vincent Price

Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands)

The Nightmare Before Christmas serves as something of a Burton reunion, bringing together Beetlejuice favorites Catherine O’Hara and Glenn Shadix, but it almost brought back someone arguably more famous from the director’s back catalogue.

Speaking to Daily Beast in 2017, Selick confirmed horror icon Vincent Price was originally set to play Santa. Price would’ve undoubtedly given a very different performance to Ed Ivory, but it wasn’t meant to be. Price’s wife had recently passed, and according to Sekick, “It just didn’t work.” 

Others sought for Santa were a “grouchy” Don Ameche and an “angry” James Earl Jones. The Nightmare Before Christmas premiered on October 9 and got a full US release on October 29, just four days after Price’s death. This means Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) is Price’s final role. 

A Famous Narrator

Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Around the time Sir Patrick Stewart was steering the ship of the Enterprise for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Royal Shakespeare Company legend was tipped to be Nightmare’s narrator. Although Stewart wasn’t expected to play Santa, he recorded lines for an extended opening and epilogue.

Ultimately, Ivory provided the voice of the brief narration at the start of the movie, while the epilogue didn’t make the cut. Stewart’s signature vocals aren’t entirely lost and can be found on the movie’s soundtrack. Importantly, Stewart’s epilogue ties into an alternate ending that never was.  

An Alternate Ending 

Jack Skellington Santa

The Nightmare Before Christmas ends with one final song, Jack and Sally finally confessing their love for each other and snow falling on Halloween Town. In an extended alternate ending for the movie, we had Santa return many years later. This version is featured on the movie’s soundtrack and arguably would’ve given even more potential to a sequel that also never was. 

Here, Jack is a father with “four or five” skeleton kids who play in a xylophone band. Santa and Jack reminisce about that fateful night, with the jolly holiday hero asking whether Jack would do it all again. With a mischievous smile, it’s clear The Pumpkin King hasn’t learned his lesson. 

The Nightmare Before Christmas 2

If you look up any list of most-requested sequels, you’ll likely find The Nightmare Before Christmas right up there. It doesn’t help diminish any hopes that Selick and company have spoken plenty about a mythical sequel over the years. Around 2001, Disney tried to push forward with a sequel but met resistance from Burton. The studio apparently wanted a CGI sequel instead of stop-motion, which would undoubtedly rob it of some charm. In 2009, Selick said he’d be willing to return if he and Burton could find the right story. 

Capcom’s Oogie’s Revenge served as a licensed sequel video game in 2004, while Disney approved the Sally-centric Long Live the Pumpkin Queen as a YA sequel book in 2002. As recently as October 2023, Selick told People he’s thrown around the idea of a prequel showing how Jack became The Pumpkin King.  

Unfortunately, the final nail comes from Burton himself, who has said he’s incredibly protective of the Nightmare intellectual property and wouldn’t want a sequel where Jack goes to Thanksgiving Town or another realm. When grilled on a sequel for the movie’s 30th anniversary, Burton jokingly told Empire, “Get off my lawn.”

The Legacy of the Pumpkin King