When Two Holidays Collide...
A Look at the Haunted Mansion Holiday
Every fall, Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas comes to life, as Jack Skellington takes over the Haunted Mansion! Since October 2001, Disneyland has transformed its Haunted Mansion into something different for the falla winter wonderland, where the citizens of Tim Burton's Halloweentown (from his stop-motion animation classic The Nightmare Before Christmas) get together to re-create Christmas. Open for a full three month season, the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay is operational for over 25 percent of the attraction's total yearly schedule.
As a project of Disneyland Park, the Haunted Mansion overlay is a success story that mirrors its fabled storyline. Of course, the genesis (and genius) behind blending the idea of blending the holidays of Christmas and Halloween has to be credited to Tim Burton (pictured above), who invented Jack Skellington and his friends when he created his stop-motion masterpiece. Much as Halloween and Christmas "collide" to create a fantastic new theme for the ride, the creative team at Disney Anaheim "collided" with a classic attraction developed long ago by the Imagineers to come up with an experience that has attracted huge crowds into the park - which was already quite popular during the holiday season due to its exquisite decorative details and festive approach to the season.
The idea for developing a holiday overlay can be attributed to Walt Disney Entertainment Creative Director Steven Davison, who has called the notion of overhauling the Mansion a "crazy idea. So crazy, in fact, that it took us over three years to get a go-ahead on the project."
"At first, the team thought that... the concept sounded easy," Davison said. "But as we got into it, we realized it wasn't." Davison credited Tim Burton's landmark film as a guide that would take the team into uncharted waters for a Disney attraction. "The creative team set out to create a holiday attraction that was... so over the top and ambitious, it would either succeed... or fail miserably!"
Of course, there are Disneyland purists who feel that the Haunted Mansion experience is lessened by adding the overlay, but the overwhelming majority of fans are thrilled with the results - largely because there is such a large crossover between fans of the ride and fans of Tim Burton's film. There have also been alterations to the holiday atttraction since it opened (most notably, an entirely new soundtrack was produced for the attraction's second year in existence, although the original soundtrack arranged by Gordon Goodwin retains many fans.)
Pictured above, right, is a handbill advertising the Haunted Mansion Holiday when it first was preparing to open to the public in 2001. The attraction was promoted heavily to local southern California residents because Disneyland wasn't known as a "Halloween" destination, and lost a lot of potential business to competitors such as Knott's "Scary" Farm and Universal Studio's "Horror Nights."
A Haunting Score
The year that Haunted Mansion Holiday was introduced to the public, it was accompanied by a rollicking, playfully gloomy soundtrack devised by Emmy and Grammy award winner Gordon Goodwin (The Incredibles, The Majestic). This soundtrack, which seemed to blend wonderful cinematic sensibilities with minor-key variants of many very popular holiday refrains, was a fine replacement for Buddy Baker's kooky original score. Each highlighted scene throughout the ride had its own endlessly looping theme, in much the same way that the original Mansion's soundtrack was put together.
Calling on a wide and varied musical background in entertainment and film, Goodwin (pictured, right) manged to capture both an atmosphere reminiscent of both Tim Burton's film (using a chanting children's chorus, for example) and Buddy Baker's score (echoing the famous "Grim Grinning Ghosts" tag throughout the graveyard score, for example.)
In 2002, Goodwin's soundtrack was replaced with a soundtrack comprised of musical cues based on the original Nightmare Before Christmas movie, which was scored and arranged by film composer John Debney (Sin City, Passion of the Christ, The Ant Bully), from original music from the inimitable Danny Elfman (pictured, left). The new soundtrack carried the ride into closer alignment with the original film on which it was based, but some critics have commented that the scored scenes now feel somewhat similar to each other, and the variety of Goodwin's score is missed. This could be attributed to over-familiarity with the Elfman's source material - after all, the "Nightmare" soundtrack is one of the most popular gothic/cartoon musical works ever devised, and Elfman's music is unavoidable (Edward Scissorhands, Meet the Robinsons, Charlotte's Web.) Nevertheless, both Goodwin and Elfman have fans of their contributions to the Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction.
In 1996, Imagineer Chris Merritt submitted a proposal to Disney for a "Nightmare Before Christmas" themed dark ride attraction. Though the effort was futile, it is fascinating to pore over the ideas that Merritt developed for his proposed ride, in which visitors would enter through the tree/portal to Halloween Town, and board a coffin sleigh for a trip that would take them through the land of Halloween, into the Professor's laboratory and through Oogie Boogie's lair, resulting in a whirlwind trip through a familiar snow-covered graveyard where Jack finally gets his girl before the sleighs return to the world of the living. To see a detailed map of Merritt's proposed attraction, click here.
A Nightmare in Japan
In 2004, Haunted Mansion Holiday was reproduced and installed into Disneyland Tokyo's Haunted Mansion for the holiday season. Renamed "The Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare" with a large picture of Jack Skellington on the front signage, the overlay attempted successfully to capitalize on the extraordinary popularity of Tim Burton's "Nightmare" in Japan. The attraction itself is very similar to the Disneyland version. Visit Joe's Disney Resort Photo Site to watch a video of the Tokyo version of "Holiday Nightmare."
Let's Take a Tour!
Take a tour of the original Haunted Mansion Holiday with us! Travel back to October of 2001 and join freelance writer Scott Bruffey as he reports on the inaugural season of the attraction's holiday overlay (and the special Haunted Mansion Holiday event held in 2001) for DoomBuggies.com.
The Fall 2001 issue of "Annual Passholder," a publication sent to everyone who held a valid annual pass to the Disneyland Resort, contained the following brief teaser for the upcoming Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay:
The holiday excitement starts early - and eerily - this year at the Disneyland Resort with a frightfully festive twist on a favorite Disneyland attraction. Haunted Mansion Holiday premieres Oct. 5 and continues through December, bringing with it a whole new reason to make the resort your holiday haunt this season. As kooky as it is creepy, the special decor adorning the exterior and interior of the once-stately manor is New Orleans Square is courtesy of Jack Skellington, the skeletal star of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." For those that may have missed the 1993 animated film, Jack, a leading citizen of Halloween Town, stumbles across the bright lights and warm glow of neighboring Christmas Town. Caught up in the Christmas spirit, Jack tries to transpose the Yuletide trimmings to his own world - and then to ours. The latest stop on his mixed-up crusade - you guessed it - the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland park! See for yourself what happens when two holidays collide.