The Nightmare Before Christmas Wasn’t Exactly The Film Disney Expected

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“The Nightmare Before Christmas” has become a holiday classic over the years, but it definitely wasn’t a hit that Disney saw coming. Director Henry Selick’s creepy animation style paired with producer and co-writer Tim Burton’s creative input and Danny Elfman’s spooky compositions was not the type of comfy and colorful family-friendly film that Disney was releasing at the time. The company chose to distance itself from the project, but has since reclaimed the film after seeing how widely beloved it has become.

Elfman himself is surprised that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” ended up being a success. “I have no idea,” the composer confessed to Yahoo:

“Because when I wrote it, nobody understood it. I got horrible reviews for it. Disney didn’t know what to make of it. How could Disney know what to make of it? They did a preview with kids who were expecting ‘The Little Mermaid’ and they got an unfinished version of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.'”

Rather than releasing the film under the Disney banner (like most of its other mainstream animated movies), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was distributed under the Mouse House’s alternative label, Touchstone Pictures. The company only further distanced itself from the film by marketing it to an older audience than its typical family demographic. The result was a confusing promotional campaign that, according to Elfman, struck a blow to the movie’s theatrical turnout.

Burton Was Tired Of The Same Old Thing

Disney feared that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” would be too scary for children, but Henry Selick tried to make choices that were more playful than terrifying. The director has referenced the clown with a tear-away face as an example. “In an earlier version of that, when we tore his face away, it was a horrible bloody mess,” Selick told Cartoon Brew in 2018. “While I realized I might like this, it didn’t fit the tone. So we just made it a black hollow. It’s about pulling punches and winking – death in this world is not really possible.”

Danny Elfman felt that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” could have been an even bigger success if Disney had known what to do with it. “When it came out, I don’t think Disney understood it at all,” he told Time in 2016. “They didn’t understand what it was, they didn’t know how to market it. It was so against the grain of everything they knew to be an animated musical. So it kind of came out and died pretty quick.”

It may have died out at first, but it came back with a vengeance years later. In the 2000s and 2010s, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” developed a massive cult following that soon evolved into bonafide mainstream success. Disney picked up on this surge in popularity and soon Hot Topic was filled with related merchandise. Likewise, the film was re-released on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming under the Disney name.

“To their credit, [Disney] picked up on a pulse years later that this thing is still alive,” Elfman added. “And they very smartly came in and breathed life back into it and did more releases. I feel very grateful that they had the smarts to sniff that out.”

Disney Realized It Was Simply Meant To Be

Even though Disney didn’t attach its name to “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the company still included a self-referential nod in the film. Every Disney animated film is said to feature at least one set of Mickey Mouse ears somewhere in the movie, and fans will stop at nothing to spot this hidden Easter egg. A hidden mouse-head is the subtle brand of a true Disney animation film, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has it — a child in Mickey Mouse pajamas who wakes up to find scary presents from Halloweentown under the Christmas tree (via Looper).

The studio clearly had mixed feelings about “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” but it was smart enough to leave its mark on the film. It turned out to be an amazing investment — the perfect holiday movie to watch any time from the flexible dates of October 1st to December 25th. “Nightmare” was also instrumental in the meteoric rise of Tim Burton and Henry Selick, both of whom are mainstream auteurs who specialize in thinking outside of the box. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a true success story, and Disney was right to warm up to it, even if it took a little time.

Read this next: The 27 Best Christmas Horror Movies Ranked

The post The Nightmare Before Christmas Wasn’t Exactly The Film Disney Expected appeared first on /Film.

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