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Nightmare Before Christmas Cut Scenes
October 19, 2003
    Patrick Stewart's version of the opening of "Nightmare Before Christmas" got cut. Well, the story that I've heard about why this change was made to the movie at virtually the last minute (just weeks before "Nightmare" actually went out into theaters) was that -- as good as Patrick's performance was -- it got the film off on the wrong foot.

    How so? Well, at test screenings of the work-in-progress version of the film, audience members would hear Patrick's all-too-distinctive tones and then quickly turn to their companions and say "That's Captain Picard! Patrick Stewart is doing the narration for this movie? I didn't know that. Did you know that?" And this little dweeby conversations would erupt all over the theater. Meantime, no one was actually watching the movie.

    This development greatly disturbed the film's creator/producer, Tim Burton, as well as the film's director, Henry Selick. They had initially been thrilled that they'd landed Patrick Stewart to be the movie's narrator. To add his star power to their odd little stop motion movie. But now that they actually saw the unintentional effect that Stewart's voicework was having on moviegoers, Tim and Henry knew that they had a problem.

    You see, at the very start of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," Burton and Selick wanted you to be sucked straight into the weird world of Halloweentown. To have Danny Elfman's songs and the film's bizarre visuals grab your attention and just hold it tight for the next 76 minutes. But somehow Stewart's take on the narration (which is wonderful, by the way ... charming yet sinister ... a perfect start for a freaky fairy tale like this) was preventing people from immediately giving themselves over to the movie. At least for the few minutes, they stood outside of the film, saying "That was Captain Picard! Did you hear that? Patrick Stewart is the narrator of this movie! How very cool!"

    That was when Tim and Henry knew that -- as good as Patrick Stewart's version of "Nightmare"'s narration was -- it was still going to have to go. Which is why -- very reluctantly (after making profuse apologies to Patrick) -- they discarded Stewart's version of the film's opening in favor of a not-quite-as-good version by a non-descript performer.

    In the end, that turned out to be the right decision for the movie. Cutting Stewart's version of the narration ended all the murmurings that used to accompany "Nightmare"'s opening sequence. And the test scores for the film actually went up. So -- all in all -- it seemed to be a smart move.

    But even so, Selick and Burton just hated that the fact that they couldn't use Patrick Stewart's version of the narration to open their movie. To let this great performance get tucked away in the Disney Studio vaults, never to be heard again. So that's why Tim and Henry made Danny Elfman include the original version of the film's opening as part of his "Nightmare Before Christmas" soundtrack. So at least the people who bought this recording would get to hear Patrick's superb performance.

    Mind you, Patrick Stewart's voice was so recognizable back then because "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was still in production back then. Which is why I keep thinking that nowadays it wouldn't be quite so distracting to hear Captain Picard saying: "'Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you've seen in your dreams."

    So maybe -- if we ask nice (perhaps as a special added feature on the next version of "Nightmare Before Christmas" that gets released on DVD) -- the folks at Buena Vista Home Entertainment will give us the option of turning on the Patrick Stewart version of the film's narration whenever we fire up that film.

    That way, we can sit in the comfort of our own homes and annoy our friends and family by saying: "Did you hear that? The narrator of the movie is Patrick Stewart. That's right! Captain Picard!"

Behind the Scenes of The Nightmare Before Christmas

    The OC Register reminds us that Tim Burton was an animator at Disney in the early 1980s when he first dreamed up Nightmare. The concept was shopped as a film, as a television special, "I would have done it on the side of a building," Burton says. But no one bit, and the project was quietly filed away. It was only years later, after Burton struck it big directing Batman, that he had the clout to make Nightmare. Disney still owned the rights but was happy to sign the reigning king of dark fairy tales. Burton, a fan of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1960s Christmas special, wanted to use the same technique--stop-motion animation--for Nightmare. Because the method was so time-intensive and specialized, Burton handed over directing duties to animator Henry Selick. Making Nightmare was a logistical nightmare. Each puppet had 25-30 sculpted heads, one for each vowel and consonant. To keep the lips synched, a computer was used to determine the head sequence. Then each frame was shot with the set carefully lighted and puppets choreographed each time. The movie took more than three years to make. But as Disney prepared to release Nightmare, Burton noted a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the marketing department. "They were initially supportive, and I'm grateful for that," he says. "But at the end of the day, they're always a little afraid. Walt was probably spinning in his grave with this film. I was disappointed. It was the height of political correctness, and it was seen as not for kids. Did they forget what it was like to be a kid?"

    "Making Nightmare Before Christmas was the smoothest filmmaking experience Iíve ever had. Tim and I never disagreed except once. I proposed a completely different ending to what Tim wanted. I sprung it on him--a big surprise--all storyboarded, temp voices and music and everything and I thought I was going to hit it out of the park. He looked at it, his jaw dropped and he walked outside and kicked a hole in the wall." The director further commented to Animation Magazine that "itís a full-blown musical. Most of the movies at the time had maybe four or five songs max and this one has 10 songs. I think itís close to an operetta. So I guess musically speaking, it was aimed at an older audience. There was only one thing in the entire film that Disney asked me not to do. It was the clown with the tear-away face. The first design, when he tore his face away, was bloody and awful. I didnít have a problem changing it because it never quite felt right. And there were other things, like where Sally gets her arm pulled off. I stuffed leaves in there where some of the guys working on it wanted to make her like Frankenstein, made of real body parts. A big thing was the ending of the movie. I spent a long time planning the battle between Oogie Boogie and Jack. The point where Oogie Boogie gets skinned alive and thereís all these bugs, that wasnít seen [by Burton] until it was finished and it was too late to change it. That was the biggest risk in the movie--whether weíd gone too far or not.

Looking Back at The Nightmare Before Christmas

    "I'll probably never have another filmmaking experience like it in my career," says director Henry Selick in an official press release. "To have Tim as your godfather on a project like that is a real gift. It was very labor intensive, of course--at the height of production we only produced 70 seconds of finished film per week--but every day we saw miracles and it was very rewarding. Nightmare was truly a hand-made movie: Every frame was crafted by an artist." Glenn Shadix, who provides the voice of the Mayor of Halloween Town, adds: "This is one project I felt was a classic the first time I saw a rough cut. Tim created the world and Henry brought it to life. I got involved when I was in Tim's pool and he was in the Jacuzzi nearby one Sunday in the summer of 1991. He yelled down to me, 'Hey Glenn, you got a big voice. Wanna do the Mayor in Nightmare?' I wasted no time yelling back 'Sure!' And that was that."

A Touchstone release.

Rated PG.

Stop motion animation.

As filming location it says San Francisco, California

CAV Deluxe edition includes still frame archives, outtakes, A "Making Of" documentary, and several related shorts. (Vincent, Frankenweenie, and Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions)