It started with a 24-year-old poem Tim Burton Written in 1982 immediately after the production of the short film “Vincent”. It was three pages long and drawn from the young director’s favorite holidays: Halloween and Christmas. As a child, the director was very lonely, and in those days the world seemed to become colorful. He’s been waiting for them all year. The poem was titled “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Burton, then an animator at Disney, began thinking of some expansions of the poem. Maybe a picture book? Another short film?
“I thought it would be cool to direct stop-motion animation. Besides, at that time I wanted to do anything,” he recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe we could get Vincent Price to be the narrator? Maybe it would be turned into a twenty-minute movie? I went to stations pitching the idea, I even went to telemarketers. I just wanted to film it.”
In his spare time, he would draw designs for grotesque characters, and his assistant Rick Heinrich began creating models for the characters. They shared their ideas with, among others, Henry Selick, also an animator working at Disney. At some point, Mickey Mouse’s own production company began considering filming the idea. However, the owners soon came to the conclusion that it was too strange for them. Its implementation finally failed in 1984, when Burton was sacked.
Within a few years, the director, once considered an eccentric who filled pages with annoying drawings, had become one of the most innovative creators in Hollywood, and also one of its most profitable. His film “Beetlejuice” impressed with its visuals and dark humor, and “Batman” broke the bank. Meanwhile, Burton was considering making a film based on his poem. When he discovered that Disney still owned the rights to it, he turned to the studio authorities.
This time he was met with openness. Disney management believed the idea would help develop stop-motion animation. Thanks to this, their studies will maintain their position as leaders in this field. Years later, when “Halloween Nightmare” was ready, marketing executives made no secret of the fact that they had problems advertising the film. “We did test screenings for all ages, and at one level – between the ages of four and six – some kids were terrified by what they saw. Others were delighted.”
There was a big problem from the beginning. Burton could have produced the film, but he did not have the time to devote his full attention to it. It was just working on “Batman returns”He was also contracted for other projects. Meanwhile, “The City…” will require about three years of work. So someone had to replace him in the director’s chair. The creator of “Edward Scissorhands” referred to Selick. He also parted ways with Disney in the 1980s, but was not as successful as his former colleague. He worked on commercials and animated shorts created for MTV.
To produce the film, Selleck established a specialized film studio in San Francisco. Soon models of the set were being created in a 40,000-square-foot space, and for three years, 120 employees moved models depicting Jacek and his gruesome gang. Working on the film was time consuming. According to Los Angeles Times calculations, fourteen animators working simultaneously on several sets could produce a maximum of 70 seconds of film per week, an enormous amount of effort.
To write the screenplay, Burton enlisted the help of Michael McDowell, with whom he had previously worked “Beetlejuice”. This time their cooperation was very difficult. Burton finally came to the conclusion that A Nightmare on Christmas Eve should be made a musical. He sought help from composer Danny Elfman, his frequent collaborator. He wrote eleven songs for this. As he later admitted, this was one of the easiest jobs of his career. All ideas were collected by Caroline Thompson, who collaborated with Burton on “Edward…”. Its script was the basis of the film, which the creators willingly deviated from during production. As Selleck admitted, only a few lines of dialogue written by Thompson remained from the finished film.
“Halloween Town” tells the story of Jack Skellington, a Halloween ghost in crisis. Every year he celebrates ghosts and monsters with the other residents, is declared the Pumpkin King, and everyone has a great time – and the next day they start preparing for next year’s celebrations. The routine is killing him. Then he goes to Christmas Town, where he meets Santa Claus. Fascinated by Christmas, he decides to understand it. He can’t, so he decides to take them on and improve them. This year, reindeer skeletons will be harnessed to the sleigh, and all the children – good and naughty – will find something scary under the Christmas tree.
“I think the Halloween and Christmas cocktail is a beautiful thing, and I really like the idea of talking about a character who is kind of the opposite of the Grinch,” Burton said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “[Jack] He’s a sentimental hero who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.” Critics agreed that the protagonist of Halloween Town is a tragic figure – a selfish person who brings danger to himself (and Christmas). His path is to understand his mistakes. And make up for them.
The character also owes its popularity to its innovative design. Tall and lanky, with a distinctive white skull, huge eye sockets, a broad smile, a bat-like tie, and a black suit with white stripes (added to prevent the character from blending in with his surroundings), Jack quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. It still exists today and appears on all kinds of clothing and paraphernalia inspired by the film.
“Halloween Nightmare” cost just $24 million, which is much less than other Disney animations aimed at a larger audience. The 91 million profit was therefore a success. However, no one expected that Jack, the rag doll Sally, and the ghost dog Zero would recur in other popular culture works and paraphernalia for years. This should make us happy. After all, everyone wants something weird sometimes.
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