The Skeleton Dance

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The Skeleton Dance
Directed byWalt Disney
Story byWalt Disney
Produced byWalt Disney
StarringWalt Disney
Carl W. Stalling
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] In 1993, to coincide with the opening of Mickey's Toontown in Disneyland, a shortened cover of the cartoon's music was arranged to be featured in the land's background ambiance.[3] The short's copyright was renewed in 1957, and as a published work from 1929 it will enter the US public domain on January 1, 2025.[4][a]


The strokes of midnight echo throughout a spooky moonlit cemetery, a group of living skeletons soon rise from their graves and start dancing.


The short film begins with an owl perched on a branch, in front of the full moon: it lets out long whistling hoots as it inflates and deflates its belly. A branch appears from the owl's right and turns into a sinister hand and tries to touch it, which frightens the owl. Subsequently, the short film shows an empty graveyard with a church in the background. In front of the church is a trunk with several branches, which are moved by the wind. The minute hand on the church's clock strikes twelve, causing its bell to start tolling, which causes a group of bats to flee from the belfry. The last two bats fly towards the screen before a spider drops down from the tree and crawls right, going off-screen.

The silhouette of a dog inflates and deflates with a howl at the Moon, while two cats fight over a grave. The fight ends when a skeleton emerges from the grave. This terrifies the cats, causing them to flee. The skeleton walks, runs and jumps until it hears the sound of the owl. This terrifies it, so it hides behind a grave. The skeleton, now angry about over-reacting over the owl's hooting, detaches its head from its neck and chucks it at the owl, knocking the owl's feathers off. Subsequently, the head (seemingly on its own) bounces back to the grave and returns to its body. There were four skeletons in the grave: they check that there is no danger. After this, the skeletons emerge from the tomb and start dancing. Then, one of them takes two bones out of one of their partners and plays its spine, vertebrae and head to produce music. Another skeleton dances alone and then plays a cat's tail as if it were a violin. The crowing of a rooster is telling them is it is becoming dawn. The skeletons rush to hide, but their bodies collide and blend together. The skeletons, now mingled, return to the grave, but one of the skeletons left their legs so then a hand comes out of the grave and grabbed the legs.


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 the following month, 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 timed 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."[5]

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."[6]

In 1994, The Skeleton Dance was voted #18 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.[7]


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 March 1931, The New York Times reported that the film had been banned in Denmark for being "too macabre".[8]

Home media[edit]

The short was released on December 4, 2001, on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies - The Historic Musical Animated Classics[9][1] and on December 2, 2002, on Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White.[10] It was released to Disney+ on July 7, 2023.[11]

Video game[edit]

The Skeleton Dance appears in the 2012 video game Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two as an unlockable short.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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". Archived from the original on December 21, 2021 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Walt Disney World FOREVER: Mickey's ToonTown Fair, THE SKELETON DANCE, retrieved January 24, 2024
  4. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries. Library of Congress. 1957.
  5. ^ "Talking Shorts". Variety: 42. July 17, 1929. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  6. ^ "Short Subjects". The Film Daily: 13. July 21, 1929. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  7. ^ Beck, Jerry (1994). The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Turner Publishing. ISBN 978-1878685490.
  8. ^ "TOPICS OF THE TIMES". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 6, 2022. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  9. ^ "Silly Symphonies: The Historic Musical Animated Classics DVD Review". DVD Dizzy. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  10. ^ "Mickey Mouse in Black and White DVD Review". DVD Dizzy. Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  11. ^ The D23 Team (June 19, 2023). "Disney+ to Debut 28 Restored Classic Walt Disney Animation Studios Shorts". D23. Retrieved June 19, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  1. ^ While the notice in the renewal is listed as 1930, the notice on the physical short is 1929. The short will enter the public domain based on the earlier notice.

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