Before the Sanderson sisters achieved their cult status fame with Hocus Pocus and its sequel, The Nightmare Before Christmas was Disney’s delightfully dark film of choice.
For 29 years, Tim Burton’s haunted holiday tale of Jack Skellington and his creepy Christmas takeover has enchanted and delighted legions of viewers. What started out as a passion project for Henry Selick and a short story from Tim Burton soon turned into a cultural phenomenon that pushed the limits of stop-motion animation, resulting in a Disney production that would forever leave a lasting imprint on popular culture. What was once considered too dark and spooky for Disney’s family-friendly image became one of their biggest fan-favorite films.
The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town who grows tired and weary of the same old spooky routine. When he discovers the joys of Christmas, he and his friends try to spread their own brand of holiday cheer, resulting in a merry but macabre hybrid of hijinks. Since its premiere in 1993, it has bubbled slowly to the surface from the depths of obscurity to the top of Disney’s Halloween celebrations, even earning its own Halloween-themed overlay at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. So how did such a niche movie achieve its cult film status?
Many factors might have gone into Nightmare’s slowly growing popularity. It might have been Tim Burton’s rise to stardom, the popularity of movies like Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, and other strange and unusual films, or simply the growing interests of an evolving audience. Whatever the reason, the film has become one of Disney’s most popular properties, and its influence continues to be felt in and out of Disney property.
The film has inspired video games, a sequel novelization featuring Sally as the Pumpkin Queen, and even rumors of a sequel short film in development for Disney+. There’s also the argument that the film’s success was what brought Burton back into the Disney fold, giving fans films like Frankenweenie, Alice in Wonderland, and Dumbo. Thanks to it’s cult status, character’s like Jack, Sally, and even that no-account Oogie Boogie have become household names around Halloween as the film has become a time-honored tradition for many Disney fans.
Compared to some of the Studio’s other contributions, it’s not exactly the saccharine sweet fairytale Disney would normally tell. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t an audience for it from the very beginning. Perhaps it was with The Nightmare Before Christmas that Disney started to pay more attention to their older audiences.
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