Silly Symphonies

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The Skeleton Dance

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 14, 2015

The Skeleton Dance is the first release in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony series. This alone makes it an important film, but its appeal is much more than just historical. In fact, it is one of the funnest, sweetest, most joyful concoctions in the entire Disney oeuvre. Right out of the gate, which is really quite remarkable.

Adapting compositions by Camille Saint-Saëns and Edvard Grieg, composer Carl Stalling (about to go on and become stupendously productive writing decades’ worth of cartoon scores for the Warner Brothers studio) brings his film music forward in a way that had never really been done before. The result is a balanced amalgam of picture and sound, dance and its accompaniment, narrative and idyll/impression, even occasionally abstraction. This redistribution of cinematic elements set the tone for so many cartoons to come, allowing them to provide, with remarkable frequency and even consistency, a huge array of striking alternatives to Hollywood’s run-of-the-mill. The same would really go for a lot of animation generally, that would relate to and contrast commercial cinemas all over the world.

It’s significant, and a portent of things to come, that this inaugural production, which is for kids, takes place in a graveyard. This almost certainly wasn’t pre-meditated, or part of any great over-reaching strategy. But children’s media has so often struck a beneficial balance between nurturing encouragement and a gleefully provocative, gleam-in-the-eye inclination to jolt the audience just a little bit. That is certainly accomplished here, as the setting might initially give the little ones just a bit of anxiety. Right after that, though, the routines that populate this anxious space will proliferate so charmingly, so ingratiatingly, that said little ones should emerge quite reassured. Braver, even!

Last note. Walt Disney is listed as the director here, which is probably fair. But we would all do well to go back and do some research on the name and legacy of a certain Ub Iwerks. The Big Names can get us into all sorts of interesting areas of study. But they can also obscure the fact that little names make the world go round, and as often as not do a very big bulk of the important work.

Last last note. Watch for the skeleton hips!