The Skeleton Dance

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The Skeleton Dance
The Skeleton Dance (1929).jpg
Directed byWalt Disney
Produced byWalt Disney
Story byWalt Disney
Music by
Animation by
Layouts by
  • Ub Iwerks
Backgrounds by
  • Ub Iwerks
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 22, 1929 (1929-08-22)
Running time
CountryUnited States

The Skeleton Dance is a 1929 Silly Symphony animated short subject produced and directed by Walt Disney and animated by Ub Iwerks.[1] In the film,[2] four human skeletons dance and make music around a spooky graveyard—a modern film example of medieval European "danse macabre" imagery. It is the first entry in the Silly Symphony series.[1]


The origins for The Skeleton Dance can be traced to mid-1928, when Walt Disney was on his way to New York to arrange a distribution deal for his new Mickey Mouse cartoons and to record the soundtrack for his first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie. During a stopover in Kansas City, Disney paid a visit to his old acquaintance Carl Stalling, then an organist at the Isis Theatre, to compose scores for his first two Mickey shorts, Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho. While there, Stalling proposed to Disney a series of "musical novelty" cartoons combining music and animation, which would become the genesis for the Silly Symphony series, and pitched an idea about skeletons dancing in a graveyard. Stalling would eventually join Disney's studio as staff composer.[1]

Animation on The Skeleton Dance began in January 1929, with Ub Iwerks animating the majority of the film in almost six weeks.[1] The soundtrack was recorded at Pat Powers' Cinephone studio in New York in February 1929, along with that of the Mickey Mouse short The Opry House. The final negative cost $5,485.40.[1]


Variety (July 17, 1929): "Title tells the story, but not the number of laughs included in this sounded cartoon short. The number is high. Peak is reached when one skeleton plays the spine of another in xylophone fashion, using a pair of thigh bones as hammers. Perfectly times xylo accompaniment completes the effect. The skeletons hoof and frolic. One throws his skull at a hooting owl and knocks the latter's feathers off. Four bones brothers do a unison routine that's a howl. To set the finish, a rooster crows at the dawn. The skeletons, through for the night, dive into a nearby grave, pulling the lid down after them. Along comes a pair of feet, somehow left behind. They kick on the slab and a bony arm reaches out to pull them in. All takes place in a graveyard. Don't bring your children."[3]

The Film Daily (July 21, 1929): "Here is one of the most novel cartoon subjects ever shown on a screen. Here we have a bunch of skeletons knocking out the laughs on their own bones, and how. They do a xylophone number with one playing the tune on the others spine. All takes place in a graveyard, and it is a howl from start to finish, with an owl and a rooster brought in for atmosphere."[4]

In 1994, The Skeleton Dance was voted #18 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.[5]


In order to attract a national distributor for the Silly Symphony series, Walt and Roy Disney arranged for The Skeleton Dance to run at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and at the Fox Theatre in San Francisco in June 1929, while Pat Powers arranged for it to play at New York's Roxy Theatre from July. In early August, Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the Silly Symphonies, and The Skeleton Dance played as a Columbia release in September at the Roxy, making it the first picture in the theater's history have a return engagement.[1]

In February 1931, The New York Times reported that the film had been banned in Denmark for being "too macabre".[1]

Home media[edit]

The short was included on the 2001 Walt Disney Treasures DVD box set Silly Symphonies[1] and also appears in the video game Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two as an unlockable short.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Merritt, Russell; Kaufman, J. B. (2016). Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series (2nd ed.). Glendale, CA: Disney Editions. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-1-4847-5132-9.
  2. ^ Walt Disney Animation Studios (October 15, 2015). "Silly Symphonies - The Skeleton Dance" – via YouTube.
  3. ^ "Talking Shorts". Variety: 42. July 17, 1929. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  4. ^ "Short Subjects". The Film Daily: 13. July 21, 1929. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Beck, Jerry (1994). The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Turner Publishing. ISBN 978-1878685490.

External links[edit]