Tim Burton’s twisted tale of two holidays colliding has become one of Disney’s most beloved cult films. But, what fans might not know about Jack Skellington’s Christmas scheme is that it didn’t start as a script but on the pages of a children’s book.
The prolific director wrote a holiday poem which was soon turned into a children’s book, which eventually became the basis of the film by Henry Selick and the rest is history. But, just how much of Burton’s original vision make it into The Nightmare Before Christmas fans relish and adore today? The answer might be a bit more than bare bones.
10 A Short Story
One of the biggest things different in the original book is its length. Originally, Burton and Selick pitched the idea to Disney as a TV movie, not a feature film. The idea was that The Nightmare Before Christmas would be a demented version of the Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials, but, upon hearing the rest of the story, the filmmakers were encouraged to expand. Thus, the Holiday World’s of old were created and a script was born.
9 A Smaller Cast
From the very artwork of the production, viewers can easily identify several different characters outside the leads. Along with Jack and Sally, there’s Dr. Finkelstein, the Harlequin Demon, the Mayor, Mr. Hyde, and several others. However, that was not the case for the original book.
In fact, Jack, Zero, and Santa Claus are the only characters mentioned by name in the poem. Points to Disney for giving the cast a more colorful selection.
8 Simpler Times
The storyline of the original book itself is also exceedingly simple, a skeleton from Halloween wants to experience the joy of Christmas. It’s short, sweet, and to the point, but that doesn’t mean Disney tossed it aside. The original story was all strictly Jack’s point of view, and, when Jack is in the focus of the film, it tends to stick to the source. Everything from the holiday doors to the curly hilltop makes it into the film, though with a touch more melodramatic flair.
7 Jack Doesn’t Like His Job
One thing noticeably different about Jack in the book to Jack in the movie is that, where the latter is the king of Halloween Town, the one in the book has a real detachment from his eerie occupation. His first words on the page are literally complaining about his job.
“I’m sick of the scaring, the terror, the fright. I’m tired of being something that goes bump in the night…” Doesn’t exactly scream “Pumpkin King.”
6 The Grinch’s M.O.
This is where the story gets interesting, to say the least. Before Danny Elfman composed the infectious “What’s This” Jack Skellington took a page or two from Dr. Seuss. When he first arrives in Christmas Town, he begins taking bits and pieces from the scenery to take back to his friends and Halloween Town. The way Burton lists the various items, presents, toys, and decorations Jack absconds with is shockingly familiar. Is this Christmas Town or Who-ville?
5 He Works Fast
Not only does Jack stealthily steal away bits and pieces of Christmas, but he comes to his frightening conclusion about taking over the holiday much sooner than in the film.
Granted, a movie would allow for more expression and visuals than a children’s book would, but, where movie Jack needs an entire montage, book Jack gets it in one self-reflecting monologue. Chalk it up to differences in artistic interpretations.
4 Gruesome Gifts
Along with expanding the cast of Halloween Town, so did Disney expand the collection of terrifying toys that Jack and his buddies delivered on Christmas Eve. The filmmakers no doubt had a wonderful time imagining creepy takes on Christmas presents, but there were only three presents that made it from the book to the screen. Still, the man-eating Christmas wreath, monster train, and vampire teddy bear were memorable props for the “Making Christmas” scene.
3 Never Meant to Be
Although most of the film came from the imagination of Tim Burton, there were a few things that were strictly original. The first of which was Jack’s love interest, Sally.
Although her appearance takes more than a few cues from some of Tim Burton’s artwork, Sally is never mentioned in the book, and there is no romantic arc for Jack. That all being said, it’s hard picturing one without the other nowadays; they were simply meant to be.
2 Boogie Begone
Another character made specifically for the film was that no-account Oogie Boogie himself. In the book, there truly was no villain unless Jack’s ambitions are thrown into account. But, since Disney wanted a full-length feature rather than a short special, the gambling bag of bugs was brought in to introduce a little more conflict into the story. But, with all things considered, he truly does seem like he belongs here.
1 Sympathetic Santa
Perhaps the biggest difference between versions of The Nightmare Before Christmas is Santa and his whole attitude about the whole situation. The movie gives viewers a rather grumpy and agitated St. Nick, after being kidnapped by trick or treaters and thrown to the Boogeyman, how can he not be? The book, on the other hand, has a much more sympathetic approach. At least somebody recognizes Jack’s good intentions, right?
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