I love when the two black cats fight on two gravestones; 'til they're
scare out of their skins by the first skeleton to appear in the cartoon.
From Christian : I remember that
I used to dance along with the skeletons when watching it. I don't know
how I got along with the impossible movements from the arms and legs, though.
Start with some lightning, an owl's eyes close up, and a full moon and
you have the mood setting. After that, it's tons of repetitions. The owl
howls a couple of times in the wind while a branch, shaped like skeletal
bones of a hand, reached out to grab the owl. The clock strikes twelve and
bats come flying from the tower to your own living room, then a spider pops
out of nowhere. A dog howls (which could have been the first sign to the
creation of Pluto), cats tug on each other's noses, and the first skeleton
scares the fur off them. Of course the first skeleton adds humor by covering
the rest of his body in the shadow except for his skull and crossbones,
yet he flies through your screen, lands on his little head and rearranges
his bones in the process.
The skeleton tiptoes through the cemetery, sees the noisy owl (which
actually scares him at first), then uses his head--literally, to knock the
fur off the owl. After he is done, four more skeletons appear from behind
the tombstone and proceed to pull off a pathetic version of dancing paralleled
only by Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes.
Two skeletons then take turns in pulling off a couple of totally ridiculous
gags. One stretches out while the other goes real short and vice-versa,
then one hippity-hops the other. After that, one skeleton decides to take
unannounced xylophone lessons by pulling the upper legbones off the other
skeleton and proceeds to play his bones quite well.
The third skeleton, meanwhile, decides to do his best in scaring the
audience by moving his skull very close to the screen a couple of times,
then detaches his entire body numerous times without messing his boney order
up! The fourth skeleton then provides no assistance to animal rights' activists
by grabbing a cat and playing the violin with the cat's tail playing the
role of the string. Back in the cemetery, the third skeleton continues his
corny dancing by crossing his boney legs numerous times, while the other
two skeletons were still playing xylophone tag, but the skeleton taking
the beating was about to reshuffle his bones, which the first eventually
did after throwing him to the ground as damaged goods.
Then, the first plot, albeit only 25 seconds worth. The rooster crows
at dawn, which scares the living daylights out of the four skeletons. In
the process, they crash and form a four-headed battering boneram which led
them to their casket, and all of them dived in...leaving a pair of feet
behind. Of course the feet were eventually dragged in.
70 years of Silly Symphonies have gone ... yet this cartoon and the series
still live on, but in so doing brought the Happy Harmonies (MGM) and Fractured
Fairy Tales (Bullwinkle) and of course my sometimes misdirected commentaries.
But hey ... not a bad first try, Walt!
To back up, though, this is the first of the Silly Symphonies, which marks another turning point in the Disney animation story. Up until this point, everything had been focused on a single character – Alice, Oswald or Mickey. With the advent of this new series, Walt and his crew were freed of that restriction, and they were able to experiment.
This was the first one, so of course, it was Ub Iwerks who handled all the animation. The title card even says “Drawn by Ub Iwerks,” which is a bit different than the Mickey cartoons which said only “A Walt Disney Comic By Ub Iwerks.” For Ub, though, this had to be a chance to spread his wings a bit after the repetition and time constraints of the previous series.
He certainly took advantage of it, creating a short that is both a little scary and a little funny, balancing the two expertly. The open of the short is a great bit with the moonlight and an owl on a tree. The owl’s hoots are timed with the music, as the wind blows through and a branch descends onto the owl, in the shape of a hand. The owl’s shock is captured perfectly by the animation.
The score here is really superb, and although many people have assumed it was adapted from the Danse Macabre, Carl Stalling swore that it was merely a foxtrot with a minor key. The main thing, however, is that the score and the animation work together perfectly, completely in syncopation. Sure, there have been some good gags in the Mickeys, but this is a whole different level.
A great example is when there are two cats perched on top of opposite gravestones. Each cat meows at each other in syncopation. Then, they pull each other’s tails, and the music builds with each successive pull of the tail. It’s a very impressive piece of work, but it’s just the beginning here.
The true masterpiece of the short is the dancing skeleton sequence. I really don’t know what to say about it, except that it’s wonderfully done. The skeletons move in ways that no other character I have seen in these early shorts. The sequence most have seen is when their heads stay still and their bodies sway, but there are many, many more.
Again, there is no story to the short, but in this case, that’s okay.
The Skeleton Dance is really just a music video of the Stalling composition. That’s a crude way to put it, but it’s the best I can come up with right now. Since there is no focal character, the short is truly just a celebration.
Anyone who’s watched Disney specials around Halloween has seen parts of this short, and it still holds up today. It’s a classic no doubt, and the first of many Silly Symphonies to come.
One surprise is that it's the first spooky short since the unscary
Alice's Spooky Adventure. It's so easy to think of fun ideas for spooky shorts that it's surprising that Julius or Oswald never went to a haunted house or had a creepy nightmare as the theme for one of their cartoons. Apart from maybe the
kidnapping and death sentencing in
Alice's Mysterious Mystery it's the first Disney cartoon that I can imagine would disturb little kids (especially back in the day).
One of my favorite bits is when one skeleton jumps at the audience and the whole screen is filmed with his mouth. Unlike the lions in
Bright Lights which just made the screen go black, the viewer actually then travels through the skeleton's body. Okay, that's hard to explain, but it's really impressive.
Although it's a darker, scratchier print, I prefer watching the version included on the Oswald DVD rather than the Silly Symphonies DVD. This is because you can see more of the frame plus it correctly keep the titles silent (and doesn't add music from
The Mad Doctor - a rather odd decision). The silence makes the initial lightening and thunder much more dramatic.