Silly Symphony #1: The Skeleton Dance (Walt Disney, 1929)

Disney Cartoons Present A Silly Symphony…”


I continue to read and watch classic Disney filmmaking, and The Skeleton Dance remains a crucial turning point in the History of Disney. At the time, Oswald the Rabbit – an idea Disney created – had been professionally-stolen from him and Mickey Mouse had now been established after the success of Steamboat Willie in 1928. What was so important at this period was not only the animation itself, but the use of sound. The Jazz Singer in 1927 confirmed the future of cinema was not silent, and Disney – despite having two silent Mickey films in the can – put the two films on hold until Steamboat Willie was created. It was a huge success and, consequently, the two films which were originally silent – Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho – now had to be turned into sound-cartoons.

Bring out Carl Stalling

But now the entire issue of sound had to be extremely professional. Walt brought in Carl Stalling, a friend from Kansas City. Stalling and Disney would attend the regular meetings and arguments would beging between the two – Walt claiming that the music should follow the action on screen, whilst Stalling would argue the music comes first and the action second. “Another series would be launched in which the action would be keyed to the music”. This became the Silly Symphonies.

Animated by legend Ub Iwerks, the sequence presents four skeletons who – when they are not in the grave of the deceased – they leap up and dance the night away, playing rib-cages like xylophones and fixing their bones together akin to the Sedlec Ossuary in Prague. Much like the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin posts before, again, we have a film easily available and it can be viewed here. (Nb – It has been incorrectly claimed that the skeletons dance to the Danse Macabre, when in fact it is Grieg’s March of the Dwarves that is played.

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