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Western Animation / The Skeleton Dance

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The first of the Classic Disney Shorts series Silly Symphonies, "The Skeleton Dance", first appearing in 1929, —is certainly one of the earliest of the macabre type of toon. Did we mention it's also very catchy? It is noteworthy for being one of the earliest, if not the first, cartoon to be entirely musically themed and timed, with no dialogue whatsoever.

While many theaters refused to show it in its heyday, the short ultimately paved the way for future hits in the series, and the cartoon still holds up to this day. The animation was almost entirely done by Disney's then-right hand man Ub Iwerks, save for the xylophone bone bit that was done by Les Clark, as well as the Rooster that was animated by Wilfred Jackson, with the music composed by Carl Stalling (who suggested the idea of a fully musical cartoon to Walt) who would go on to compose for Iwerks in his own studio, and later on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of shorts.

The film would be remade in color by Iwerks for Columbia Cartoons in 1937 as "Skeleton Frolic". Though not a Shot-for-Shot Remake, as several new gags are incorporated and the character design is made considerably less creepy (not to mention the toon's entirely new soundtrack), the general structure is the same and much of the original animation is closely imitated.

Compare to the 1930 Talkartoons short "Swing, You Sinners!", which is somewhat similar (albeit much more swingin' and crazy) in tone.

"The Skeleton Dance" contains examples of:

  • Animation Bump: Early on when the first Skeleton leaps at the "camera", and during the song when the teeth chattering skeleton zooms in at the camera.
  • Black Comedy Animal Cruelty: One of the skeletons throws its skull at an owl and another pulls a stray cat by the tail so it can play said tail like a violin.
  • Body Horror: A case where this happens with just bones: in their hurry to make it back into their graves at sunrise, the skeletons collide and morph together in a bizarre multi-limbed horse-like composite thing.
  • Butt-Monkey: The owl seen at the beginning. He gets first frigthened by a tree branch who looks like a monstruos skeletal hand and then the first skeleton throws his own skull at him for having it scared.
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: A rooster crowing tells the skeletons that it's time to be back underground.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: These skeletons look scary but they aren't truly evil — one of them is even frightened by an owl.
  • The Dead Can Dance: It's right there in the title.
  • Dem Bones: The main characters are 4 dancing, living skeletons.
  • Digital Destruction: The Disney+ version has the opening and ending titles muted and replaced with still frames.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a short about a bunch of skeletons who dance.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: After scaring the cats, one skeleton makes a skull and crossbones icon using his body while repeatedly biting the air, and then LEAPS AT THE CAMERA AND EATS IT.
  • Instantly Defeathered Bird: One skeleton throws his head at the owl that spooked him. The impact causes the owl to lose all his feathers, except the ones on his head.
  • Jerkass: They may not be evil, but a few of them are pretty mean. One throws its head at an owl that spooked it and another captures a stray cat and plays its tail like a violin.
  • Jump Scare: Literally when the first skeleton jumps at the audience.
  • Mickey Mousing: The music changes as the short progresses; in the beginning, it is relatively minimalistic as nothing much is happening. The music slowly picks up when the skeletons appear, and then jumps into a dance tune as they well, dance. As their dance moves become more varied, exploiting their skeletal bodies to do many different things, the music changes key and becomes more intense. Finally, as the morning comes, the music becomes fast-paced as the skeletons rush back in their grave.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: The only sounds in the animation are the background music and sound effects.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the rooster crows, thus signifying that morning is coming, the skeletons freak out and rush back to their graves in a panic.
  • Ominous Owl: One of them frightens the first skeleton... so it throws its head at the bird, knocking off all its feathers.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: At the end, the skeletons accidentally combine into a bizarre, Cyriak-esque bone creature with four heads stacked on top of each other.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: The short is based on the very real danse macabre in which people would dress as skeletons on a dark stage, making it seem as if actual skeletons were dancing.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Part of Carl Stalling's music is based on the staple Danse Macabre music cue and Edvard Grieg's "March of the Dwarfs." The rest of it, such as the part where the Skeletons dance together, is custom made music composed by Stalling himself.
  • Rubber-Hose Limbs: Even though they're bones. Rule of Funny and all that.
  • Skeletal Musician: Using each other as instruments, even.
  • Standard Snippet: "Mysterioso Pizzicato" is synced up to the footsteps of a skeleton (later multiple skeletons) tiptoeing through the graveyard.
  • Walking Ossuary: Played for Laughs at the end. When dawn breaks, the skeletons scramble for cover and crash into each other, falling into a pile of bones. They reassemble as a large, multi-headed, multi-limbed skeleton that jumps into an open grave.
  • Xylophones for Walking Bones: The skeletons dance to March of the Dwarfs by Edvard Grieg, which features xylophone in some parts. One skeleton even uses another's vertebrae as a xylophone!