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Danny Elfman Got ‘Horrible Reviews’ for His ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ Score Because ‘Nobody Understood It’

While he claims that the studio didn't understand the film at first, Elfman praised Disney for continuing to promote it throughout the years.

Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman

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It’s Halloween weekend, which means “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” is likely making its way back into many cinephiles’ viewing rotations. Henry Selick’s stop motion classic has amassed a cult following over the years for its ability to blend sweetness with the macabre, something that its creative team could never have predicted at the time of its release.

In a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Danny Elfman revealed that the early negative reception to his score made him think that the film would be a failure.

“I had no idea,” Elfman said. “Because when I wrote it, nobody understood it. I got horrible reviews for it. Disney didn’t know what to make of it. How could Disney know what to make of it? They did a preview with kids who were expecting ‘The Little Mermaid’ and they got an unfinished version of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’”

While Disney was initially bewildered by the film, Elfman claims that the studio eventually came to understand and appreciate it. He attributes some of the film’s cult status to the entertainment giant’s continued promotion of it.

“To [Disney’s] credit, a decade later, they saw that there’s this weird ‘Nightmare’ cult that never went away,” he said. “And they reinvigorated their energy behind it, really to their credit. Because that’s rare. Generally a studio would go, ‘No, that ship has sailed.’ And in this case they came back and said, ‘No, let’s put energy into it again. There’s something there that never died, that never quite went away.’ And I’m so grateful for that.”

He added: “And when they came back a decade later, they did understand it. ‘We now know what this movie is. We didn’t when it came out. But we do now.’”

“Nightmare Before Christmas” fans have plenty to celebrate these days, as director Henry Selick recently released “Wendell & Wild, his first new film in 13 years. Like much of his earlier work, it features his signature style of family friendly yet creepy stop motion. The film follows two demons (voiced by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele) who befriend a human girl in an attempt to reach the Land of the Living.

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