The Skeleton Dance is a 1929 Silly Symphony animated short subject produced and directed by Walt Disney and animated by Ub Iwerks. In the film, 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.
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.
Animation on The Skeleton Dance began in January 1929, with Ub Iwerks animating the majority of the film in almost six weeks. 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.
In 1994, The Skeleton Dance was voted #18 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.