Friday, May 19, 2017

Skellington Productions

Skellington Productions was a joint venture between Disney and directors Henry Selick and Tim Burton. The company specialized in stop-motion animation and through its short life, produced two films. Formed in 1986 by Selick and Burton, the company started by working with TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Faerie Tale Theatre. They also created stop motion commercials for the likes of Pillsbury, MTV, and Ritz. Burton left for a few years to work on his movies, but eventually came back in 1992 when the duo started working on The Nightmare Before Christmas. Originally a short story by Tim Burton when he was still working for Disney, he had pitched it to his bosses, who liked it enough to consider making it into a short film. The project never got off the ground and Burton eventually left Disney in the mid-80’s to pursue a directing career. The story always stuck in the back of his mind, and in the early 90’s he decided to try and get it going again. Disney still owned the story from back when he worked for them, so he partnered with them, selling Skellington Productions to Disney in the process.

Disney let Burton and Selick have free reign, wanting to see another technical wonder like they had done with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Burton was around to develop the main story and songs(of which he developed with Danny Elfman), but let Selick direct since he became wrapped up with Batman Returns and didn’t want to be bogged down with the process of stop-motion animation. Disney was hesitant about the whole project, thinking that it was too dark for kids, so they put it under their Touchstone Pictures banner and had it released as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. In putting Tim Burton’s name on it, they hoped to catch a wider audience, thanks to his recent notoriety directing the Batman films. Disney was surprisingly open-minded though when it came to the end result. They doubted that the movie would make a huge amount of money, but if it did, that was great. They felt that if the movie didn’t do well, it wasn’t the fault of the stop-motion. Luckily for them the movie turned into a sleeper hit, eventually taking in $50 million in its initial run. Re-releases over the years eventually brought it up to $75 million. This was all against an $18 million budget, a fraction of what any other Disney animated film would have been made for, so Disney was happy. The movie has continued to pay dividends through merchandise. Around the time I was in high school, all the kids who had seen The Nightmare Before Christmas when they were little started to rediscover it and it became extremely popular again. Hot Topic was half Nightmare merchandise. This has continued to this day, as you will see people of varying ages with Nightmare merch. I had a t-shirt myself, so I’m guilty of this as well. I’m legit in love with this movie, as I’m a huge fan of both Halloween/spooky things and stop-motion, probably due to this movie. For a few years Disney was releasing the movie in 3-D in theaters every Halloween, but it must have been too much money to keep doing.

Skellington Productions next film was James and the Giant Peach, based on the novel by Roald Dahl. Disney had bought the rights from Dahl’s widow in 1992, as while he was alive he wouldn’t allow anyone to do a film adaptation. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had left a bad taste in his mouth and he didn’t let others adapt his works very often. His widow claimed that Roald would have loved James and the Giant Peach, and later went on to say about another Burton project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, that he would have loved it much more than Willy Wonka. To keep costs down, Selick opted to start and end the film with live-action and the middle part as stop-motion. Released in 1996, critics loved it, audiences didn’t show up. The film grossed $28.9 million against a $38 million budget. Not too great compared to Nightmare Before Christmas. Unlike many critical darlings that were initially ignored, this one hasn’t had a resurgence. It definitely doesn’t have the same coverage as Nightmare. The company folded soon after, as the two men decided to go onto other endeavors. Burton continued to direct, though now most people wish he would stop, and Selick did 2009’s Coraline for Laika and then left them for Pixar.

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