November marks the beginning of the holiday season at the Disney parks. You’ll find attractions and streets filled with sparkling lights, Christmas carols, and sometimes even a little snowfall. But for one eerie attraction at Disneyland, the holiday season starts in October and involves decorations of a more sinister nature. Each year since 2001, the characters from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas have taken over Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion for the Haunted Mansion Holiday.
Due to the success of It’s A Small World Holiday and The Country Bear Christmas Special, two other Christmas attraction overlays at Disneyland, the imagineers decided they wanted to install a Christmas overlay to the Haunted Mansion. They initially considered a theme centered around A Christmas Carol. The story features several ghosts, so this seemed a natural match for the Haunted Mansion; however, the setting of A Christmas Carol didn’t fit well with the attraction’s New Orleans Square location. So the decision was made to instead center the overlay around The Nightmare Before Christmas, effectively combining the spookiness of the Haunted Mansion with the Christmas season.
Steve Davidson, the Creative Director for Walt Disney Entertainment, took the lead on the Haunted Mansion Holiday project. Initially, the team thought bringing The Nightmare Before Christmas to the Haunted Mansion would prove to be an incredibly easy task. After working on the project, they realized this “simple” task wasn’t so simple after all. They wanted to create an overlay with Nightmare Before Christmas characters and references everywhere. It seemed to be a crazy idea; so crazy, in fact, that it was three entire years before the team received the approval to go ahead with the project!
Changes To The Attraction
While the attraction already fit the spooky theme of Nightmare Before Christmas, it needed characters and some pumpkins before it would be bit for The Pumpkin King. Jack Skellington was added throughout the attraction, along with his ghost dog Zero. Monster teeth were placed on the Haunted Mansion attraction signs. Jack-o-lanterns were installed everywhere. Even the singing busts in the graveyard were fitted with jack-o-lantern heads! Sally, Oogie Boogie, and many more of The Nightmare Before Christmas characters can also be seen throughout The Haunted Mansion.
Also as part of the holiday overlay, several classic elements of The Haunted Mansion have received an update. Madame Leota can be heard reciting the 13 Days of Christmas. From 2001 – 2003, the Hitchhiking Ghosts were replaced by Lock, Shock, and Barrel. In 2003 this feature was updated to portray Oogie Boogie with a roulette wheel and Christmas gifts. Guests would then be able to see the items they were given through the mirrors, similar to the Hitchhiking Ghosts effects. Towards the end of the attraction, Little Leota was replaced by Sally who watches as Jack Skellington flies away in his sleigh.
Another notable change to the classic Haunted Mansion attraction can be found in the ballroom scene. Rather than a birthday party, the ghosts are now hosting a Christmas party. The highlight of the party decorations is always the giant gingerbread house. Each year, at the request of Tim Burton, the Disney bakers create a new and unique gingerbread creation for the attraction. Past gingerbread houses include presents in the shape of a mansion, Zero’s dog house, a large Jack In The Box mansion, a Scary-Go-Round carousel, and an advent calendar with 13 doors. The 2015 version of Haunted Mansion Holiday features a 10-foot tall gingerbread house of cards. Take a look at the creation of this massive gingerbread creation in the time-lapse video below. Bonus points if you find the hidden Mickey!
A New Soundtrack
In addition to Nightmare Before Christmas characters and other various modifications, the attraction also needed a new soundtrack for the holiday overlay. Haunted Mansion Holiday’s original 2001 score was composed by Gordon Goodwin; however, the soundtrack was updated in 2002 to feature more music inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas. This new adapted score was created by John Debney and featured themes originally composed for the film by Danny Elfman. Goodwin’s original music can still be heard in the Stretching Room and in the Exit Crpyt.
With the new music for the attraction also came the need for new dialog. Disney had to find a new voice for both the Ghost Host and Madame Leota. They chose Corey Burton to provide the voice of the Ghost Host and Susan Blakeslee as the voice of Madame Leota. The face to go along with Madame Leota’s new dialog was provided by Kim Irvine, the daughter of imagineer Leota Toombs who provided the original face for Madame Leota. The dialog for several Nightmare Before Christmas characters was provided by the film’s original voice actors including Chris Sarandon as Jack Skellington and Ken Page as Oogie Boogie.
Around The World
While some Disney purists prefer the classic Haunted Mansion attraction, many Disney fans are delighted each year by the attraction’s Nightmare Before Christmas theme. It is a highlight of Disneyland’s Halloween and Christmas celebrations each year. In 2004, Tokyo Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion debuted its own version of the Haunted Mansion Holiday. So far, these are the only two Disney parks to feature this seasonal overlay. There are not currently any plans to bring The Nightmare Before Christmas to Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, but I’m hoping the imagineers may consider bringing this to Florida at some point!