Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Skeleton Dance (1929)

Skeletons with some seriously spooky dance moves!

First released August 22, 1929

"The Skeleton Dance" is the very first of Disney's ground-breaking Silly Symphonies animated short subject series. It is one of the very first cartoons to feature animation, music and sound in perfect synchronization. It's quite an impressive technological achievement and also quite a fantastically freaky, and even surreal installation from the Disney studios.

Original lobby poster for the short

Although this may not explicitly be a "Halloween" cartoon, the setting (an autumnal churchyard populated by bats, owls, black cats and ambulatory skeletons) certainly seems to indicate that Halloween is implied, if not implicit.

See? Quite Halloween-ish-ly spooky!

Moreover, my first acquaintance with this short was via the Disney's Halloween Treat special, which first aired in 1982 and features a weirdly colorized clip of this short in its opening sequence. (Whoever heard of an ORANGE skeleton?)

ORANGE? Really?

As the church bell tolls midnight, a quartet of skeletons emerge from their unquiet graves and proceed to have quite the dance party. There are gags featuring skull throwing at a disapproving owl, use of a black cat's tail for fiddling and other equally surreal and fun spooky imagery. One of my favorite bits features one of the skeletons appropriating his cohort as a xylophone like percussion instrument. I also really like that one of the skeletons demonstrates some very 1920s Charleston dance moves!

A skeletal xylophone performance
Poor kitty! But the sight gag is pretty good.

The cartoon features music composed by the great Carl Stalling and fabulous animation by the great cartoonist (and co-creator of Mickey Mouse!), Ub Iwerks. The short features fabulous perspective shots that have a 3-D effect and wonderfully surreal ways for the skeletons to move.

3-D House of Skull!
Quite possibly the most surreal bit of the whole cartoon (near the end of the short)

I highly recommend adding this to your annual Halloween viewing whether you are an animation history fan or just a fan of spooky autumnal silliness!

My rating:
4 jack o'lanterns

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