Tim Burton began his career as an apprentice at Walt Disney Animation Studios in the early 1980s. By the time “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was released in 1993, the director was big enough that his name superceded the title itself. It remains one of the most popular films to bear his name and one of the most beloved animated films of all time. Burton himself did not direct “Nightmare”— stop-motion master Henry Selick did— but the look and feel of the characters and sights in the film feel like they were ripped straight from Burton’s imagination.
As, indeed, they were. The story and characters originated as a poem created by Burton in 1982, and stuck with him over the years even as he grew to fame as a director through a string of hits including “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Beetlejuice,” 1989’s “Batman” and “Edward Scissorhands.” By 1991, Disney signed a deal to bring his poem to life on the screen, though the resulting film was deemed too dark and scary for a family audience and released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label instead.
Disney now proudly claims the movie as its own, for good reason. “Nightmare” has long since become an animation classic, with a massive cult following that gobbles up any merchandise that comes bearing Jack Skellington’s visage. But the initial concern is understandable, as a film featuring gory ghouls and creepy crawlies to the degree that “Nightmare” does seems at right angles with Walt Disney’s brand. Right?
Except really, “Nightmare Before Christmas” fits right into the Disney pantheon. The best children’s tales (made by Disney or not) often feature gruesome visuals and frightening sequences, if you stand back and consider them from a child’s perspective. The evil witch is a harrowing presence in “Snow White.” The rebellious children being transformed into donkeys is a horrifying event in “Pinocchio.” Bambi’s mother is killed by hunters in a disturbing scene. Compared to some of the more intense sequences in Disney history, the residents of Halloween Town can seem almost innocent by comparison.
Wall to wall with stunning visuals, beautiful music, breathtaking animation and a cast of characters as memorable as any in animated history, “Nightmare Before Christmas” is a perfect holiday film, whether the holiday is Halloween, Christmas or anywhere in between.
“Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” is available to stream on Disney Plus.