30 Years of Frights and Fun: The Story of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

30 Years of Frights and Fun: The Story of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

In the holiday realm filled with wonder and excitement, one film brings audiences of all ages through the doors of Halloween Town and Christmas Town. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, is an American stop-motion film that blends two holidays into an adventure of a lifetime filled with memorable songs and kooky characters. Like the movie, the visual component of TNBC cannot exist without the insatiable score composed by American film composer Danny Elfman. As the Symphony prepares to launch into Christmas Town with skeleton reindeer, let’s dive into one of the most popular films of the generation.

The Emergence of a Film Composer

At the beginning of his career, Elfman was part of the new wave group called Oingo Boingo famous for their 1985 single “Weird Science”. Though he enjoyed being a part of the underground subculture that popularized the late 1970s, Elfman strived to be a part of the film industry. Starting his composition journey on his older brother’s

film Forbidden Zone, Elfman knew exactly what he was passionate about. Elfman’s resume continued to soar with blockbuster hits like Beetlejuice, Batman Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, and most recently, the hit Netflix series Wednesday starring Jenny Ortega. However, none of these film scores could have happened without help from his longtime friend, Tim Burton.

Tim Burton began brainstorming TNBC while working for Disney in the 1980s. The initial idea of the movie arises from a poem that Burton wrote detailing creepy characters and frights who explore Christmas in their macabre fashion. Doesn’t stray too far from the final draft, right? Though some were a bit hesitant on the concept and predicted that it would be “too dark” or “scary for young audiences, Burton and Selick were given the green light to make a film that would not see major success until a decade later.

Danny’s Lament

How exactly do you write a Christmas soundtrack to a Halloween film, or is it a Halloween soundtrack to a Christmas film? The only correct answer comes from the pumpkin king himself! During the storyboard phase of TNBC, Burton would detail the events of the story to Elfman, chapter by chapter. No script, no cast, just a mere concept from creator to composer. During this time, Elfman was plagued with countless thoughts on

his career much like our protagonist Jack Skellington. Not only did Elfman not predict this direction of his musical career, but he also never had a connecting relationship with Christmas. Using his inner conflict, he writes “Jack’s Lament”, an ode to longing from the sheer boredom and repetitiveness of life. Danny developed a deep connection with Skellington and begged Burton if he could supply his vocals for the film. After discussion with Henry Selick, Burton agreed to let Elfman supply singing vocals to Jack Skellington while the speaking pars were given to actor Chris Sarandon. Not only did Elfman voice Jack, but he also provides the complete vocals to Barrel, a child who works for villain Ooogie Boogie, and the Clown with the Tear-Away Face.  Additionally, Elfman realized that the score needed to be anthemic and full of wonder and excitement and creates songs like “Kidnap The Sandy Claws” and “Making Christmas”, drawing inspiration from classical composers such as Cole Porter and George Gershwin. After dedicating so much emotion and connection to the film, the success of Nightmare was short-lived during its first premiere. Elfman felt defeated and confused as to why something so heartfelt did not translate to audiences and the box office. Little did he know that the film would rise from the dead and become a household staple in the years to come!

Jack’s Return

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a worldwide phenomenon that has evolved into video games, books, clothing, and pop culture. The film’s soundtrack has become anthems to children and adults with its infectious charm. Many artists have covered selections from the soundtrack including Amy Lee, Fall Out Boy, and most recently, Billie

Eilish. Additionally, the film’s stop-motion animation helped facilitate the growth of the animation style into similar films like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. From themed parties to exclusive merchandise releases, fans cannot get enough of the film and eagerly wait for a chance to relive the classic again.

For the first time, fans will get to see the Houston Symphony perform the entirety of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas as we celebrate 30 years of magic and macabre for one weekend! The performance adds a new dimension to the movie’s cultural impact and symbolizes the enduring love for Burton and Elfman’s greatest creation as it captivates audiences again, solidifying its place in pop culture. 

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