For this Toon In offering since this is the Season for all things spooky and often ghoulishly fun – I thought it would be the perfect time to talk a bit about 1929’s The Skeleton Dance. This is not only an amazing animated theatrical short but also was Walt Disney Productions first short for their Silly Symphony series. This was two years after Walt and Roy Disney along with equally legendary animation Ub Iwerks created and then eventually lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – which as you well know led them to coming up with the one and only Mickey Mouse. Ub Iwerks as I’ve read on the Walt Disney Family Museum site, is the one who did most of the animation work on The Skeleton Dance although the original pitch appears to have come from the brain of composer Carl Stalling. It is most certainly a delightfully creepy animated short and one of the reasons I love it so is that it possesses that ‘anything can happen’ style of animation!
The Skeleton Dance was pitched by Carl Stalling when Walt Disney was dropping by Kansas City, to pay a visit to the composer. He was hoping that Stalling would be willing to score two of his animated shorts – both starring Mickey Mouse – Plane Crazy as well as The Gallopin’ Gaucho. Carl would indeed score those shorts but he also floated the idea about a series of animated cartoons that could be described as “musical novelty” shorts. This idea is what eventually led to the creation of the Silly Symphony series – that first short based off an advertisement that Carl Stalling saw when he was a young boy. It certainly seems that memory from the young Stalling paid off when The Skeleton Dance was released on the big screen.
The short was shown in June of 1929 at the Carthay Circle Theater (The first cartoon ever shown there!) in Los Angeles and the Fox Theatre in San Francisco as well as the Roxy Theatre in New York. Although reading that article from the Disney Family Museum makes it sound like that was no easy task to bring about. It mentions that it took Walt Disney four months to find a movie theater that would even show the short after it had been completed in February of ’29 – at the cost of a little over 5,000 dollars and six weeks of work by Iwerks. The reason for all of this was to land a distributor for the Silly Symphony animated shorts… and it totally worked – with Columbia Pictures picking up the series and having it’s official premiere on August 22nd of that year at the Roxy Theatre in fact!
As for the story presented in The Skeleton Dance it is what is advertised on the tin – as a group of skeletons arise from their graves to be merry and dance after the clock has struck midnight at the church. The quartet of bony revelers have only until dawn to engage in their nightly pranks and dance before returning to their slumber… to surely do it all again the following night after the clock strikes twelve o’clock once more!