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The Skeleton Dance

A Silly Symphony

Release Date : August 22, 1929

Running Time : 5:30

Synopsis

A nightmarish graveyard provides the background for a quartet of dancing bones.

Credits

Director
Walt Disney
Animation
Ub Iwerks
Music
Carl Stalling

Milestones

The first Silly Symphony.

Video

United States
Cartoon Classics : First Series : Volume 3 : Scary Tales
Italy
Cartoon Festival 3
Cartoons Disney 3

CED

United States
Cartoon Classics - Scary Tales

Laserdiscs

Cartoon Classics : Scary Tales

DVD

Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Germany
Disney Treasures : Wave 7 : The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
France
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Italy
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Sweden
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
United Kingdom
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies

Blu-Ray

United States
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs : 3 Disc Blue ray + DVD Combo Pack

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 55: Oooh! Scary!
The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 4: Disney Firsts
Walt Disney Presents: The Story of the Animated Drawing

Technical Specification

Color Type: Black & White
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono : Cinephone
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Comments

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : The first of the Silly Symphonies, The Skeleton Dance, is another Ub Iwerks tour de force, albeit different than Plane Crazy or some of his other masterpieces. The Skeleton Dance is madcap fun from start to finish, a pure celebration of the macabre that manages to be happy at the same time.

To back up, though, this is the first of the Silly Symphonies, which marks another turning point in the Disney animation story. Up until this point, everything had been focused on a single character – Alice, Oswald or Mickey. With the advent of this new series, Walt and his crew were freed of that restriction, and they were able to experiment.

This was the first one, so of course, it was Ub Iwerks who handled all the animation. The title card even says “Drawn by Ub Iwerks,” which is a bit different than the Mickey cartoons which said only “A Walt Disney Comic By Ub Iwerks.” For Ub, though, this had to be a chance to spread his wings a bit after the repetition and time constraints of the previous series.

He certainly took advantage of it, creating a short that is both a little scary and a little funny, balancing the two expertly. The open of the short is a great bit with the moonlight and an owl on a tree. The owl’s hoots are timed with the music, as the wind blows through and a branch descends onto the owl, in the shape of a hand. The owl’s shock is captured perfectly by the animation.

The score here is really superb, and although many people have assumed it was adapted from the Danse Macabre, Carl Stalling swore that it was merely a foxtrot with a minor key. The main thing, however, is that the score and the animation work together perfectly, completely in syncopation. Sure, there have been some good gags in the Mickeys, but this is a whole different level.

A great example is when there are two cats perched on top of opposite gravestones. Each cat meows at each other in syncopation. Then, they pull each other’s tails, and the music builds with each successive pull of the tail. It’s a very impressive piece of work, but it’s just the beginning here.

The true masterpiece of the short is the dancing skeleton sequence. I really don’t know what to say about it, except that it’s wonderfully done. The skeletons move in ways that no other character I have seen in these early shorts. The sequence most have seen is when their heads stay still and their bodies sway, but there are many, many more.

Again, there is no story to the short, but in this case, that’s okay. The Skeleton Dance is really just a music video of the Stalling composition. That’s a crude way to put it, but it’s the best I can come up with right now. Since there is no focal character, the short is truly just a celebration.

Anyone who’s watched Disney specials around Halloween has seen parts of this short, and it still holds up today. It’s a classic no doubt, and the first of many Silly Symphonies to come.


From Kevin C. : The "Citizen Kane" of early Disney animation. Ever fresh and new!
From B. D. : This is my favorite of the early Silly Symphonies - the way the top-notch animation works in conjunction with the appealing music is simply mesmerizing. Extreme verbosity aside, though, I should give you a quick heads-up - though I haven't seen many of the upcoming black-and-white Symphonies, judging by the comments on The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts and the few I have seen, they aren't quite as good as this, and some of them... well, you'll see what I mean when you get to the aptly-named El Terrible Toreador. I won't spoil it for you, but I'll just say: if you thought Alice's Mysterious Mystery was disturbing, just wait until you see what happens to the bull.
From Mac : It's a real pleasure watching these cartoons in order along with you and your blog, Ryan. Now that we've got to The Skeleton Dance, it's apparent that nothing quite like this has been done in a Disney short before. It really is an amazing piece of work that still holds up today.

One surprise is that it's the first spooky short since the unscary Alice's Spooky Adventure. It's so easy to think of fun ideas for spooky shorts that it's surprising that Julius or Oswald never went to a haunted house or had a creepy nightmare as the theme for one of their cartoons. Apart from maybe the kidnapping and death sentencing in Alice's Mysterious Mystery it's the first Disney cartoon that I can imagine would disturb little kids (especially back in the day).

One of my favorite bits is when one skeleton jumps at the audience and the whole screen is filmed with his mouth. Unlike the lions in Bright Lights which just made the screen go black, the viewer actually then travels through the skeleton's body. Okay, that's hard to explain, but it's really impressive.

Although it's a darker, scratchier print, I prefer watching the version included on the Oswald DVD rather than the Silly Symphonies DVD. This is because you can see more of the frame plus it correctly keep the titles silent (and doesn't add music from The Mad Doctor - a rather odd decision). The silence makes the initial lightening and thunder much more dramatic.


From Jen Arko : I've grown up watching Disney shorts, and I must say this classic remains forever the epitome of the Silly Symphony and all subsequent incarnations! The mixture of morbid and banal is marvelously done, and the animation moves so naturally and so well to the music. My absolute favorite!
From Jerry Edwards : This is one of my favorite Disney cartoons and I consider it one of the all-time classics. The music and animation are so strange - I can only imagine what the 1929 audience thought when they first saw this cartoon, so very unusual and distinctive compared to other cartoons of its time. I can't think of a better beginning for a new cartoon series. I've always found the history of this cartoon interesting. One reason for the wonderful animation is that Ub Iwerks, Walt's main animator and minority partner at the time, animated the entire cartoon almost completely by himself. This caused friction between Walt and Ub, because Walt wanted to keep costs down by having assistant animators do most of the animation. I'm glad Ub got his way this time, since the animation probably would not have as wonderful.
From Ryan : Here it is. The very first of the "Silly Symphony" series. Now, I myself am not too big a fan of the "Silly Symphonies", but this short wasn't too bad. I remember first seeing it on "Walt Disney Presents: The Story of the Animated Drawing." People must have been pretty fascinated to see animation and music blended together in the early sound era. Some of the animation was reused in a later Mickey Mouse short.
From Laura McQueen : I saw this cartoon when I was 5 years old and to this very day I still remember it clearly. Ever since I was a kid I have searched all over to try and find this awesome cartoon, but I always end up empty handed. I am now in college and every Halloween I think back to when I would rent this movie just for the occasion and be content in the little goofy dances. Keep on with the great cartoons! It gets a perfect 10.
From Amber Carrasco : Whenever I think of Halloween, Disney's Scary Tale's immediately pops into my head. My sisters and I used to watch this all the time, and it got us in the Halloween mood! In fact, I don't think Halloween would be complete without watching this short!
From Carla Randle : I first saw this little movie in the mid 1960s as a child with my younger brother. We re-enacted it over and over again and still speak of it!
From Alan Passmore : The Skeleton Dance is my all-time favorite Silly Symphony! I am a fan of old Halloween-themed cartoons, and this is the best. From the eerie background of the graveyard to the funny choreography of 'dem dry bones, it never fails to give me a thrill. A real treat!
From Rich : Just take it from me; Walt's story and direction, Ub's artwork (along with that of a few other men), Stalling's music score. Pour into a mixing bowl (don't forget to stir) , bake for five-and-a-half minutes, and you get the combined talents of these young men (at least when they were young) molded into this early Disney masterpiece. What makes this cartoon all the more interesting, is that Walt Disney did in fact, do animation work on this cartoon. It was the first cartoon he had done animation work on in nearly half-a-decade, and this was because his ability to draw was probably sometimes impaired by his dyslexia. Yes, Disney had dyslexia. It's no wonder why his name was sometimes misspelled in the credits of future films as Yensid Retlaw!
From Melanie Ehrlich : My mom taped this for me when I was five. I remember dancing around my living room, imitating the skeletons, and getting frustrated when I realized I couldn't sweep my feet like those skeletons. Now I'm fifteen, and I have the same, maybe even more of an appreciation for The Skeleton Dance now. I love it. What makes it so different from modern cartoons, is that it's captivating without a definitive plot, or slapstick humor, or even words. It's definitely a classic.
From Angela : Absolutely hilarious, I made my parents rent this so many times when I was younger that I think I wore the tape out.
From Baruch Weiss : This was the first Silly Symphony and it was an instant success although one Los Angeles theater declared "I can't recommend it. It's too gruesome!"
From Jade : I love The Skeleton Dance and could watch it year round. I give it a 10!
From Chris Perdue : One of the first Silly Symphonies I ever saw was The Skeleton Dance on the Scary Tales video. I love the silly symphonies for the most part and give this one a nine. I love the xylophone scenes and the ending scene where the feet are out there by themselves and a skeleton arm reaches out and pulls him in.
From Twiggy : I have watched this cartoon since I was just a little one, and to me, it represents the sign of Halloween. Though I am not a huge fan of the newer Disney, I love all the old spooky shorts what my father would show me and my brother, such as The Skeleton Dance, Haunted House, Trick or Treat, and many others that my dad recorded long ago. So I give it a 10, the animation is great, the music is great, and it is a lovely toon.
From Joulin : This is a great short film. Ever since I was a baby I loved watching it! When I was around 1 or 2 I use to dance around and pretend I was the skeletons. Now I'm 16 and I still love watching it ... and sometimes dancing to it too.
From Happy : I love this animated short! Every Halloween, as a little girl, my sister, my cousins and myself ALWAYS entertained my family and relatives by doing the dances. We'd do the dance like the skeletons did. I was always the skeleton who becomes the xylophone and gets crumbled into pieces. My favorite scene and part to act out was when the skeleton skips, ducks and throws his head at the owl. The last time I saw this animated short was some years ago on the Disney Channel over the summer.
From Debby DePriest : I bought this for my daughter when she was 6 or 7, and as soon as I saw it I remembered it from when I was a kid. It's such a classic and just so cute, we'll always love it!
From beajerry : I think this is the very thing that made Halloween my favorite holiday!
From Gijs Grob : The first of the Silly Symphonies and easily one of the best. The Skeleton Dance deservedly even ranks among the best cartoons of all time. It starts spectacularly to begin with: we first see an extreme close up of huge eyes, which only after the camera zooms out appear to belong to an owl. The complete film is simple, yet perfect in its timing and its peculiar mix of eerie atmosphere and silly jokes. The animation is extraordinary fluent and the skeletons are convincing throughout the picture. More than in the earlier cartoons the animation and music are a perfect match. This cartoon singlehandedly puts Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling to the eternal hall of fame. A masterpiece.
From Sam : I thought it was a great short. The first time I saw it was in the opening sequence of "Disney's Halloween Treat". Later, when I was younger, I saw it on the Disney Channel. Wonderfully animated and great music!
From Julie Arsenault : It's amazing! I love it! Another great cartoon Halloween (my favorite holiday!) It'll give the creeps & the shivers and also a very chilling musical score by Looney Tunes' musical director Carl Stalling including "The March of the Trolls" by Edvard Grieg that'll keep you up 'til midnight.

I love when the two black cats fight on two gravestones; 'til they're scare out of their skins by the first skeleton to appear in the cartoon.


From Mandi Licious : I absolutely adore this cartoon! It is amazing and brings back fond memories.

From Christian : I remember that I used to dance along with the skeletons when watching it. I don't know how I got along with the impossible movements from the arms and legs, though.


From Steven : This is probably one of the best cartoons ever made with great animation by Les Clark and Ub Iwerks. Iwerks would later reuse the skeleton theme in some of his Flip the Frog cartoons and was also reused in the Mickey cartoon Haunted House. Carl Stalling also had an important role in this cartoon as he was the one who came up with idea of the series. I give this one a ten out of ten.
From Tom Wilkins : This cartoon is not as scary as many would think, all because this was the first attempt of a cartoon not featuring a big-named character (of course Mickey would be the first to come to mind.)

Start with some lightning, an owl's eyes close up, and a full moon and you have the mood setting. After that, it's tons of repetitions. The owl howls a couple of times in the wind while a branch, shaped like skeletal bones of a hand, reached out to grab the owl. The clock strikes twelve and bats come flying from the tower to your own living room, then a spider pops out of nowhere. A dog howls (which could have been the first sign to the creation of Pluto), cats tug on each other's noses, and the first skeleton scares the fur off them. Of course the first skeleton adds humor by covering the rest of his body in the shadow except for his skull and crossbones, yet he flies through your screen, lands on his little head and rearranges his bones in the process.

The skeleton tiptoes through the cemetery, sees the noisy owl (which actually scares him at first), then uses his head--literally, to knock the fur off the owl. After he is done, four more skeletons appear from behind the tombstone and proceed to pull off a pathetic version of dancing paralleled only by Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes.

Two skeletons then take turns in pulling off a couple of totally ridiculous gags. One stretches out while the other goes real short and vice-versa, then one hippity-hops the other. After that, one skeleton decides to take unannounced xylophone lessons by pulling the upper legbones off the other skeleton and proceeds to play his bones quite well.

The third skeleton, meanwhile, decides to do his best in scaring the audience by moving his skull very close to the screen a couple of times, then detaches his entire body numerous times without messing his boney order up! The fourth skeleton then provides no assistance to animal rights' activists by grabbing a cat and playing the violin with the cat's tail playing the role of the string. Back in the cemetery, the third skeleton continues his corny dancing by crossing his boney legs numerous times, while the other two skeletons were still playing xylophone tag, but the skeleton taking the beating was about to reshuffle his bones, which the first eventually did after throwing him to the ground as damaged goods.

Then, the first plot, albeit only 25 seconds worth. The rooster crows at dawn, which scares the living daylights out of the four skeletons. In the process, they crash and form a four-headed battering boneram which led them to their casket, and all of them dived in...leaving a pair of feet behind. Of course the feet were eventually dragged in.

70 years of Silly Symphonies have gone ... yet this cartoon and the series still live on, but in so doing brought the Happy Harmonies (MGM) and Fractured Fairy Tales (Bullwinkle) and of course my sometimes misdirected commentaries. But hey ... not a bad first try, Walt!


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