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Disney's Darker Side With "The Skeleton Dance" And "The Haunted House"

I've always been on the fence about Disney cartoons. I'm speaking of course of the short animations created mostly while Disney was alive. Uncle Walt surrounded himself with some of the best and most innovative in the business, but lots of times all of that quality didn't come together to tell much of a story. The features are mostly breathtaking, but some of those shorts simply don't have much to say.

So many Disney shorts are idyllic bucolic romps that are pretty to look at, but aren't terribly satisfying otherwise. But there's an element of Disney that even ardent fans seem to forget. Disney was great at scaring the Bejeezus220px-The_Skeleton_Dance poster out of children. Think of the terror in your heart at the sight of any number of evil queens, witches, and you just try to choke back the tears at the terror of that fire in "Bambi".

While there are lots of classic Disney shorts that I would dismiss as little more than technical achievements, there are still many many animation classics in the Walt Vault. Perhaps none moreso than "The Skeleton Dance". It's (astonishingly!) from 1929, and is a lovely little bit of morbidity of the macabre goings on in your local cemetery. You always knew that these kinds of post-mortem monkeyshines went on under the full moon, didn't you?

The terrific music is thanks to Carl Stalling (yes... THAT Carl Stalling - He was Disney's first musical director). I twas he that suggested creating a cartoon where music was the whole point - sort of a mood piece - so the "Silly Symphonies" series was born. Check out the sheer number of elements in the cartoon that are syncopated to the music. Don't forget that in those early days of animation, lots of animators were musicians (check out some of the wild music of Disney's in-house band "The Firehouse Five"). Skeleton-dance-1-bluTiming those early cartoons was usually plotted out on musical bar sheets, which is why early animation has that characteristic look of everything moving to a beat. This is also the first cartoon to use non-post-synced sound.

You'll see lots of other typical earmarks of early animation, including lots of repetition (the more ya loop, the less ya draw) and figures suddenly turning all rubbery. I love it, and so did Disney. So much so that that we see several of the same moves again in Mickey's adventure in "The Haunted House" released later that same year (Watch for the somewhat head-scratching Al Jolsen gag about 2 minutes in).

These are great cartoons for ths time of year (even though "The Skeleton Dance" was released in August, "The Haunted House" in December). It's a nice reminder that Halloween is for spookhouse fun, not just blood and gore. I love ghosts and witches, but when I walk down the Halloween aisle of a store and see stick-on bloody hand prints, I really do long for some graveyard mischief instead.

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