Sarandon remains proud of 'Nightmare Before Christmas' as film classic turns 20
Acclaimed actor provided speaking voice of Jack Skellington for Tim Burton's stop-motion tale
Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton's stop-motion animated classic "The Nightmare Before Christmas," but the memories of working on the film have hardly been forgotten by voice star Chris Sarandon.
In fact, Sarandon, who voiced the role of the "Pumpkin King," Jack Skellington, said hardly a week goes by without some reminder of the film.
"I can't tell you how many people I've run into who've told me they grew up watching the movie, and for whom it meant a great deal," Sarandon told me in a recent call from New York. "He's been so much a part of my life since it came out and so many people love it."
Released on Oct. 29, 1993, "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" follows the wild adventures of Jack, a beanpole skeleton who discovers a gateway from Halloweentown into Christmastown. Bored with the drab environs of his home, Jack decides to make the most out of his trip into bright and shiny place and concocts a plan that will flip the holiday-themed community on its head.
Directed by Henry Selick and produced by Burton based on his original poem, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" recently was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film.
Although Sarandon had long made his mark on the Hollywood scene with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for "Dog Day Afternoon" in 1975 and roles in such hits as "Fright Night," "Child's Play" and "The Princess Bride," among many others, in the years after, he wasn't specifically picked for the voice role of Jack for "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
In fact, the purpose of his voice audition for the film was to see if his speaking voice was in sync with the singing voice of Burton's composer Danny Elfman, who was recording all of Jack's tunes.
"Danny Elfman had recorded a lot of the songs already, if not all of them," Sarandon said. "There were visuals of the character -- prints of what he looked like -- and everybody read. At the time, we were told, this is the singing voice we are trying to match. So when I went in and read, I was cast. I'm still kind of amazed and surprised that it happened."
Sarandon's story dispels Internet rumor that the actor wasn't up to snuff as a singer to record the tracks.
"I may not have had a good enough singing voice, which is beside the point. The point was that Danny had already sung all of the songs and had animated most if not all of them," Sarandon explained.
Sarandon, 71, told me he would have attempted to sing the part if asked.
"It would have been fun, but I can't imagine that I would have done a better job than Danny did," Sarandon told me, humbly. "I do sing. I've done four Broadway musicals, so it wasn't that I didn't have any experience with it. Danny, however, was singing his own music, and he had a very special and extraordinary feel for it. Since he had a background as a singer and musician with Oingo Boingo before he became a film composer, so his experience was much more in keeping with the sort of thing the filmmakers were looking for."
Of course, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" launched a memorabilia craze after its release that is still strong to this day. As for Sarandon, the actor said he was lucky enough to score some mementos from his time on the film, which have even been displayed at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.V.
"It's interesting, because I'm from West Virginia, and in the Capitol is a cultural center with examples of work from various artists from the state," Sarandon said. "One of the things I loaned them was this little Lucite box I had created with three of the Jack heads in it and it's one of the great attractions at my site in the museum."
One piece of Sarandon's film history that never "figured" into his collection, though, was a Chucky doll from the 1988 horror film favorite "Child's Play."
"I don't think I'd want one around my house, anyway," Sarandon told me with a laugh.
That's because Chucky -- the cursed, evil version of the "Good Guy" doll in the film -- wanted to deep-six Sarandon's character, Detective Mike Norris, in the worst way.
Sarandon said even if he did want a Chucky doll for his movie memorabilia collection, it would have been tough to come by.
"There were so many different iterations of Chucky. There were half-Chuckies who were operated by people underneath the floor, there were little people and children dressed as Chucky -- all different sorts of them," Sarandon recalled. "So I never had access to a Chucky doll."
Oddly enough, "Child's Play" is also celebrating a landmark anniversary this year. The film, which spawned five sequels including the new "Curse of Chucky" (Universal Home Entertainment), will turn 25 on Nov. 9.
Sarandon, of course, only appeared in the first "Child's Play," but Brad Dourif, the voice of the homicidal doll, brought his wicked vocals to all of the films, including "Curse of Chucky."
And much in the way Chucky stays with Dourif, Sarandon's Jack Skellington has never really strayed far from his life over the years. He's reprised time and again the voice of the character for video games, including the new "Disney Infinity."
"I did the voice for 'Kingdom of Hearts' and the sequels, and have even done ring tones for Jack," Sarandon enthused. "Whenever Jack is involved, they give me a call. He sort of lives with me."
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