The Skeleton Dance (1929), Short
The Skeleton Dance (1929) is a masterwork of early American animation available on the Walt Disney Treasures Collection, DVD Catalogue #52420 (The Adventures of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit). The short runs approximately 5:30 and is a delight from beginning to end. It would make a perfect short for a screening of Jason and the Argonauts. The art was primarily rendered by animator Ub Iwerks who was an early colleague of Walt Disney, but left on his own around 1930, and then later returned back to Disney Studios in the late 30’s. Iwerks contributed to countless Disney productions, but is known for his pioneering work in combining live-action footage with animation, as exemplified by films The Song of the South (1946), Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Mary Poppins (1964). Some sources also list Les Clark (one of Disney’s key animators) as having contributed to the xylophone sequence in The Skeleton Dance (1929).
The Skeleton Dance is an example of Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts, which are exemplified by screwy stylized characters performing odd routines with classical or contemporary jazz/pop music playing in the background. This short is really strange with grotesque frame-filling closeups which pre-dates the Fleischer’s use of the technique (see the color Popeye shorts).
As with other Silly Symphony shorts, this film used the Cinephone sound process. The music direction and composition was done by Carl W. Stalling, who worked on over 650 shorts for Disney, Warner Bros. and other studios, as well as numerous contributions in sound composition on TV.
The Skeleton Dance grabs you in the opening moments with a frame-filling closeup of eyeballs. The camera pulls back and we see an owl sitting in a tree, with howling wind animating a claw-like branch.
A skeleton appears under a full moon sitting on a tombstone and leaps toward the audience, swallowing the camera as it passes through his abdomen —well, hollow abdomen or rib cage. He lands, falls apart, re-assembles and goes into a Vauldeville dance routine.
I knew a skeleton and he’d dance for you in worn out shoes….
Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe….
He’d jump so high, he’d jump so high, then he lightly touch down….
Mr. Skeleton, Mr. Skeleton, dance….
Later, three additional skeleton appear and get in on the action.
One of the stranger sequences has a skeleton playing a friend xylophone-style. What’s he gonna do with that Tibia?
And the film culminates in the bizarre assembly of a “skeletopede” that crawls back into the grave. This is really a strange sequence. I sometimes wonder if those guys were smoking a lot of pot or perhaps ingesting peyote.
Don’t forget your feet.
The Skeleton Dance on the Big Cartoon Db