Oct 13, 2023
Director Henry Selick tells PEOPLE he "always" knew the movie was a "f--- yeah project" for him, while actor Chris Sarandon says he'd "be there in a minute" for a sequel
The hit movie musical is celebrating three decades since its release in theaters when it wowed audiences for the first time with its unique stop-motion animation, Danny Elfman-fueled soundtrack and heartwarming story set against a spooky backdrop — one that the Walt Disney Company was originally hesitant to fully embrace, according to director Henry Selick (Coraline).
"There was very little merchandising at first, but then Disney realized the film's growing in popularity and they capitalized on that," Selick, 70, tells PEOPLE in honor of his film's milestone birthday. "And then finally, Disney called it a Disney film because originally, they were afraid it was too strange, it would damage their brand, and it was released as a Touchstone film." (Touchstone was a former label of Walt Disney Studios, founded and owned by The Walt Disney Company.)
But later, he says, "They embraced it and they took the Haunted Mansion [at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland] and, for Halloween, turned into a Nightmare Before Christmas thing. So it didn't seem to happen suddenly. It was just this steady growth, and then it ramped way up."
The movie, from a story by Tim Burton, follows Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon, with the singing voice of Elfman, 70), the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town who dreams of something more and gets in over his head when he becomes obsessed with Christmas Town and recreating it in his home world. But with a little help from ragdoll Sally (Catherine O'Hara), he learns the importance of being true to one's self, and the real meaning of the Christmas spirit, friendship and love.
Selick, who made his directorial debut with Nightmare, says he "always" knew that Nightmare was a "f--- yeah project" for him, and that it originally started as an idea for a TV special that turned into something bigger.