Danny Elfman Has Defended The Nightmare Before Christmas As A Film For All Ages Since Its Premiere

"Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?"

The opening lines of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" are simple, beckoning its audience as a grinning carnival barker might entreat passers-by to enter the big tent and see the grand show. Here thar be monsters, but that's part of the fun in Henry Selick's stop-motion multi-holiday classic.

The movie is a Frankenstein's creation conjured by Tim Burton, put to page by screenwriter Caroline Thompson, directed by Selick, and taken to musical heaven by Danny Elfman's lyrics and compositions. It's about a man of privilege who tries to appropriate another town's entire culture, all wrapped in a dark fantasy story set within the realms of two highly cool holidays. Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, with Elfman in the singing role), King of Pumpkin Town, finds himself in Christmas town and proceeds to hijack the Christmas holiday itself. There is dismemberment, but not a drop of blood. A man and his reindeer are blown out of the sky, but they're all literally skeletons. It's gleefully weird and gracefully macabre, and its coziness with the Other opens the story to a variety of readings and interpretations.

But since its 1993 release, there have been those who would absolutely not like to see something strange. There are those who say Selick's parade of grotesqueries — mad scientists, scary clowns, snakes, worms, etc — is too much for children. Speaking with Billboard, Elfman remembers a producer approaching him after a test screening, proclaiming that "kids hate it." He tells Billboard:

"Every person would ask me 'So if this isn't for kids, who is this for?' I'd say, 'If your kids aren't afraid of Halloween, they won't be afraid of 'Nightmare.'" 

In this town, don't we love it now?

Danny Elfman continues telling Billboard that the movie "...came and went pretty quickly and didn't do very well," citing a befuddled marketing response. It's easy to imagine executives not quite knowing what to make of the movie in 1993 — a wild time for stop-motion. It's a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie in one big celebration, no matter what the director says; one of its greatest strengths is that it has high replay value for four continuous months a year, boosting holiday cheer exponentially.

As to its ghoulishness, that can't be denied. The opening song "This Is Halloween" is a procession of terrors, from the clown with the tearaway face to the "Who?" when you call "Who's there?" and paired with stop-motion creeps and crawlers that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. But those who don't want to see something strange miss a crucial element of both the film and the Halloween holiday itself: occasionally, some purist might pop up to try to take the holiday back to its old Celtic days, but for children and adults these days, Halloween is celebratory. This is a world where the audience is as comfortable with mortality as children are with the same — for one night a year, as Elfman points out.

/Film's Joshua Meyer points out that the film's legacy is one involving all ages, despite what some stuffy producer said. "Songs from the movie have entered the regular rotation of holiday music," Meyer observes, "and The Nightmare Before Christmas has also become an annual tradition for a whole legion of Disney parkgoers." Indeed, a visit to the local mall finds "Nightmare" merch at Hot Topic and F.Y.E. alike, and little Jack Skellington skull charms adorning the kiddie Crocs. For those of us at /Film, it's easily a Top Ten movie for the holiday season.