After Walt Disney found success with Mickey Mouse following the release of “Steamboat Willie,” he began to look for ways to diversify his output so he wouldn’t become dependent on his popular new creation. Deciding to capitalize on the use of sound that helped launch Mickey into the stratosphere, he developed an idea with Carl W. Stalling (who had composed the scores for Mickey cartoons such as “The Gallopin’ Gaucho” and “Plane Crazy“) to create a series of music-centric shorts that would be dubbed the Silly Symphonies beginning with “The Skeleton Dance.”

The Silly Symphonies would go on to be a vital stepping stone for Disney animation as an open frontier to test new animated techniques, story structures, and innovations such as the first use of the multiplane camera (“The Old Mill”) and Technicolor animation (“Flowers and Trees”). In a roundabout way, Walt’s desire to branch out from his success with Mickey would also lead to the creation of the animated character that would eventually surpass Mickey in popularity during his lifetime – Donald Duck, first introduced in the Silly Symphony short “The Wise Little Hen.”

Even he didn’t see that coming.

The Skeleton Dance


“The Skeleton Dance” was one of Disney’s first forays into the macabre. In many ways, the plot is very similar to “The Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia. Both feature ghoulish imagery of the dead walking, or in this case, dancing after dark, emerging from a graveyard setting to frolic and cavort until the break of day chases them back underground.

Although more lighthearted than the hellish foray in Fantasia, “The Skeleton Dance” doesn’t limp on its own scares which probably had a bigger impact at the time of its release. The initial set-up is admirable as the short establishes a spooky atmosphere with owls hooting and spiders crawling throughout the cemetery. As two cats spit and holler at each other atop a couple of tombstones, a human skeleton springs to life behind them and then proceeds with an attempt to take a bite out of the audience!

The magical world of Disney.

The animation is impressive and easily the best output Disney had produced up to the time. The sheer imagination and detail as the skeletons rearrange and distort their bones to create instruments and other ghastly shapes to the tune of the music is extraordinary.

And appropriately disturbing at times to boot.

“The Skeleton Dance” skirts the line of whimsy and spooky to perfection yet perhaps the most disturbing image, in my opinion, was one that was completely intended for comedy. As the sound of a rooster alerts the skeletons to the coming of dawn, they panic and crash into each other in a frantic attempt to reach their grave, clustering their bones together to amalgamate into what can only be described as a terrifying hell beast!

Enjoy your nightmares tonight!

Yet, this just begs me to question just how powerful are church bells and roosters in the Disney universe? After all, similarly in Fantasia, it only took the sound of church bells to send this guy…

“Phenomenal cosmic powers!”

…shrieking back from whence he came.

Either that or he suffers greatly from photophobia, which would make Fantasia the ultimate Disney tragedy.

Makes me wonder what would have happened if any of them actually stuck around…


Final Thoughts

The triumph of “The Skeleton Dance” allowed the Disney Studios to expand beyond its Mickey Mouse origins. The primary elements that would eventually evolve into the development of the animated features such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and, especially, Fantasia were conceived and refined throughout the Silly Symphonies’ ten-year run, winning a record seven Academy Awards (only the “Tom and Jerry” series was ever able to match this achievement).

With “The Skeleton Dance,” Walt was able to prove that the Disney Studios had excessive range in the industry. Who knew that an animated excursion into the chilling world of the dead could yield so much life and delight?

Random Afterthoughts…

I never have understood why there’s a prevalent legend that Walt Disney had an innate hatred of cats. It’s not like he’d go out of the way to show, for instance, an undead corpse springing to life to torture a cat with a jaunty rhythm playing…

…oh yeah. Never mind.

Alternate Title By Default


Join us next time as we present a special Default Disney review just in time for the holidays – “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” For more Disney Animated Shorts, click here.

"The Skeleton Dance" (1929)

I am a writer, video producer, and avid film buff. I've also been pegged by a few as the second coming of the Messiah although I don't believe it. Just to be on the safe side, however, I am willing to accept your prayers and any monetary contributions you are willing to part with. Especially automobiles. Yes, automobiles will suffice.