October 29, 1993 – The Stop-Motion Animated Feature The Nightmare Before Christmas is Released to Theaters
“When I was working at Disney, I designed something that’s sort of the reverse of that. It’s like the Grinch in reverse, so to speak, about this character who finds Christmas and loves it and decides to try to do it himself.” – Tim Burton.
On October 29, 1993, the Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas was released to theaters, distributed under the Touchstone label. The idea for the film first began with a poem Burton created while working as an animator at the Walt Disney Studios in the early 80s. When Burton was re-hired, he asked for his treatment back, and it was returned along with his original concept sketches, which helped shape the look and tone of the overall film. The look of the film was also meant to be reminiscent of the illustrations of Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey. The film took three years to create, with the stop-motion done at 24 frames a second, and using 13 animators and more than 100 camera operators, puppet makers, set builders, and prop makers on 19 soundstages with 230 sets. The film was directed by Henry Selick, with screenplay by Caroline Thompson and Michael McDowell, music by Danny Elfman, and story by Tim Burton. It stars Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington (with Danny Elfman providing his singing voice), Catherine O’Hara as Sally, William Hickey as Doctor Finklestein, and Ken Page as Oogie Boogie. The film was originally released under the Touchstone Banner, due to Disney’s fear that the film was too scary for children. After the film became a critical and financial success, the film was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
The film begins with a look at a forest with a circle of trees, with each tree decorated with a door representing a different holiday. The door for Halloween opens, with the residents of Halloween Town celebrating after another successful Halloween night. A rag-doll named Sally is among the residents watching the celebrations, but is quickly retrieved by her creator, Dr. Finklestein, although she is able to escape by unstitching her arm. Meanwhile, Jack Skellington, known as the Pumpkin King, leaves the celebration early, feeling melancholy and bored with Halloween. Sally, harboring a secret crush on Jack, watches him as he wanders through the graveyard, before she returns home to retrieve her arm.
Jack wanders away from Halloween Town through the night, and finds himself in a part of the forest he hasn’t seen before, in front of a tree with a Christmas tree design. Enchanted by this strange design, he opens the door and is sucked inside, falling into Christmas Town. Meanwhile, the Halloween Town residents are frantically looking for Jack. But just as Sally, hearing the alarms, finds a way to escape the doctor’s house, Jack returns with all of the items he’s taken from Christmas Town, and calls an emergency town meeting to discuss everything he’s seen. Although he tries to explain, the town doesn’t understand the “special kind of feeling in Christmas Land.”
That night, Jack is reading up on all the stories of Christmas he can find, and decides to use science to come up with a better explanation. He borrows equipment from Doctor Finklestein, and sequesters himself in his home, much to the worry of the town. Jack comes to the conclusion that he and the members of the town will take over Christmas. Sally has a terrifying vision of Jack’s Christmas, which she believes will only end in danger for him. She tries to warn him, but he reassures her that his Christmas will be just fine. Jack also runs into problems with Lock, Shock, and Barrel, Halloween Town’s finest trick-or-treaters, who also work for Oogie Boogie. They are tasked with kidnapping Santa Clause, and although they promise to leave Oogie Boogie out of it, they plan to give Santa to him instead of Jack.
The night before Christmas arrives, and Jack is ready to go out as Santa Clause. Sally tries to prevent him from heading out by covering Halloween Town with a thick fog, but Jack’s dog, Zero, has a glowing red nose to light the way, so Jack lifts off into the sky to claim Christmas as his own. Lock, Shock, and Barrel, capture Santa, are told to make him “comfortable,” which to them means taking him to Oogie Boogie. As Jack travels all around the world, his Christmas is considered an unmitigated disaster, with the military being mobilized to take the “imposter” down.
When Sally tries to rescue Santa from Oogie Boogie, she is captured. The town, which has been watching Jack’s journey, sees Jack being shot down by cannon fire and announce that Jack has been blown to smithereens. Jack, still alive, begins to rethink what he’s done. Ashamed at the turmoil he’s caused, he realizes that he has a new zest for being the Pumpkin King, and heads back to Halloween Town, determined to set everything right. First he rescues Sally and Santa from Oogie Boogie, reducing the villain to nothing but a single bug, which Santa squishes. Santa quickly makes everything right, and gives Halloween Town a present of their first snowfall. Jack returns Sally’s affections, and the two hug in the snow-filled moonlight.