The story behind the film originated from a poem written by Burton in 1982 when he was working as an animator at Walt Disney.
The Nightmare Before Christmas makes for the best festive season movie. You can whip it out for Halloween as well as for Christmas and it would feel right at home. This 1993 Tim Burton film has gone on to become a classic. It follows Jack Skellington, the King of 'Halloween Town' who happens to stumble upon 'Christmas Town.' He becomes obsessed with celebrating the holiday in his town. Things don't go as planned with Santa put in danger and Jack having to deliver presents on his behalf. This stop-motion film was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, which was a first for an animated film.
Even though it has been nearly 30 years since the movie came out, it remains just as relevant as ever. The story behind the film originated from a poem written by Burton in 1982 when he was working as an animator at Walt Disney Productions. It was a film with a sort of theme and aesthetic that had never been done before. Channeling his curiosity and wonder of the holiday time when he was a kid, Burton came up with the character of Jack. “Anytime there was Christmas or Halloween, you’d go to Thrifty’s and buy stuff and it was great,” he recalled in a 1993 interview with LA Times. “It gave you some sort of texture all of a sudden that wasn’t there before.”
Inspired by Rudolph and other Christmas specials, Burton playfully tweaked Clement Clarke Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas when he wrote: "Twas the night mare before Christmas..." He even drew illustrations for his poem. He initially hoped to make the poem a short film or a 30-minute television story. Finally, he pitched his idea to Disney and despite its unique art style that is so different from the other films it makes, it was approved and started production in 1991.
What really sets the film apart from the rest is the animation itself. It is not a cartoon with drawings of its characters. The characters are three-dimensional articulated figures that move and emote like live actors, through a process called stop-motion animation. At the time the 72-minute movie was the first to attempt this high level of stop-motion animation. Before this, there were only George Pal's Puppertoons that had gone through that level of stop-motion. In fact, it was Pal’s technique of substituting different faces and limbs on characters in each frame of film to give them more streamlined movement that was also borrowed and expanded upon by Burton's crew.
Disney took a gamble on Burton's style of art to lead a completely different style of animation. Just before this, he had made his first film, Vincent, a six-minute short about a seven-year-old who reads Edgar Allen Poe and wants to be Vincent Price. He has used stop-motion animation in this project as well, and it was what inspired him to write and design a more ambitious story. “I find the mix of Halloween and Christmas beautiful, and I just liked the idea where it’s like a reversed 'Grinch' character. Where Jack’s not a bad character,” Burton said of his creation.
He added, “I like that kind of character that’s passionate but doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think it’s a reaction against the kind of society you grow up with, where people don’t feel a lot or go out on a limb a lot and just kind of remain in the shadows and judge others. What’s nice about these characters is they just get swept up into something, even if they don’t know what they’re doing."