The Skeleton Dance is the first film in the landmark Silly Symphonies cartoon series. The toon began a 10 year run of creatively inventive animated short films produced by the Walt Disney Company.
The Skeleton Dance is regarded as one of the best shorts in the Silly Symphonies series-- and for good reason. The film is a great mix of gags and superb animation, and its popularity among not only audiences of 1929 but also modern audiences has garnered it a spot on The 50 Greatest Cartoons list at #18.
The toon opens quite dramatically on a spooky night. Out of the darkness, a pair of huge eyes light up the screen. As the camera pans backward, a creepy owl is revealed atop a twisted tree branch.
This toon uses some great effects, like lightning in the sky and bats flying straight towards the screen. The setting is an old cemetery, and the beautiful artwork helps to up the creep factor.
A great gag occurs between two black cats in the graveyard. As they are fighting, one cat pulls the nose of the other. The harder the cat's nose is pulled, the shorter its tail becomes!
Just as the two cats are about to kill each other, a skeleton pops up from behind a tombstone. The bony figure literally scares the fur right off the two felines.
The next scene is a great example of just how good the Disney animators (specifically Ub Iwerks) were at this early point in cartoon animation. The skeleton leaps from the tombstone towards the camera, engulfing the audience! If only 3D film had been invented...
But even our scary skeleton isn't so tough. After hearing a strange noise in the darkness, he hurriedly seeks refuge from behind a nearby tombstone. It turns out the noise is just the hooting of that owl on the tree branch.
Enraged at the owl, the skeleton takes off his head and seeks revenge by pegging the owl squarely in the chest. As feathers fly, the owl is left with nothing but skin and bones.
Soon more skeletons come out to play in the darkness of the graveyard.
The Skeleton Dance is so named because of the unique dance the skeleton quartet perform. The animation of the four was reused in another cartoon, 1929's The Haunted House. That toon features Mickey Mouse exploring a creepy mansion full of dancing skeletons.
The great animation of the dance features the skeletons playing Ring-Around-The-Rosy, twisting like ballerinas, using each other like pogo sticks, and getting into all sorts of strange shapes.
At once point, a skeleton comes close to the camera and almost eats the audience again.
But all games must come to an end, and soon the rooster crows, signaling daybreak.
As skeletons really do not like the daytime, the four scramble to get back to bed. In their rush, they manage to crash into each other. Luckily they feel no pain and put themselves back together quickly.
Soon all four are back home in their grave, safe and sound.
The Skeleton Dance is really a great cartoon and a great way to for Disney to begin a new series.