After being released in select cities on Oct. 22nd of ‘93’. 20 years ago today “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” opened in theaters everywhere in the US. It became a cult phenomenon. There wasn’t anything like it before. A stop motion animated musical that dealt with both Halloween and Christmas. The movie was a visual feast for the eyes. But the stunning stop motion animation and witty story would feel incomplete without the songs and score composed by Elfman tying both together.
It really doesn’t surprise me now why Burton wanted Elfman to write songs since Elfman at the time had a rock band back in the 80s to mid 90s. Burton even visited him during clubs to watch him perform, which led to his hiring to score “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” in the first place. Elfman wrote ten songs. And later, after the film was completed, wrote over an hour of score. That was back in ‘90’ (I believe ) the script was still in progress. To come up with the songs Elfman had to work off of ideas and sketches from Burton. So Burton would come over Elfman’s house presenting ‘em to him. Then Elfman would write and perform synth mock-ups of each song that would take place at a certain moment in the film. Then screenwriter Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands), who was Elfman’s girlfriend at one point and would collaborate again on 1994‘s “Black Beauty“, used the songs to drive her screenplay. Therefore Elfman’s songs had a hand in piecing the script together. Burton was unable to direct TNBC b/c he was working on “Batman Returns” which needed his full attention. So he hired friend/director Henry Selick to handle the directing duties.
When hiring the voice actor for Jack Skellington, Selick and co. hired veteran actor Chris Sarandon (“Fright Night”, “The Princess Bride”, “Child’s Play”) but when it came to the singing Elfman suggested to Burton that he should perform all the singing for Jack. And Burton very much obliged to that notion. Listening to the songs (especially the Jack eccentric songs) I could tell Elfman really related to Jack. He understood the character’s frustrations of wanting something different. Just as the character was bored with being the Pumpkin King and following the same tradition once every year in Halloween Town. Elfman was bored with the Boingo concerts and touring, but wanted to explore more of his talents as a film composer at the time. Both Jack and Elfman were at the height of their careers. To this day I think Jack Skellington is the only character he’s written music for where both had a lot in common.
The songs in the score are either operatic, jazzy, whimsical, gothic, melodramatic, upbeat, gloomy, twisted, tragic, or quirky. Pretty much anything you’d associate with a Burton/Elfman project. The songs do a great deal of underlining both the spirit of Halloween and Christmas. Which makes this score/film perfect to listen/watch for both holidays. It helps that in the story Jack is trying to understand the meaning of Christmas before he decides to celebrate it and take over Santa‘s duties. The Christmas songs do a an impeccable job of reflecting that. Most of the melodies from the majority of the songs are employed throughout the original score.