Tone, reflection and strong contrast to music are what come to mind when reflecting on the 1929 Disney Silly Symphony cartoon the Skeleton Dance. In 1929 Herbert Hoover was president and the roaring 20’s were reaching its end. Devastation had begun to consume Americans’ starting with the stock market crash and the beginnings of the Great Depression. These events taking place set the scene for the Skeleton Dance.
Walt Disney is famously known for his ability to distract audiences from their harsh realities and transports them into a land of fiction. This is his earliest adaptation of that idea and was executed wonderfully.
The cartoon begins with gloomy setting, a cemetery, were darkness is everywhere and inescapable. The use of tone is meant to convey the darkness shadowing the struggle American’s were facing through this terrible time.
Animals that are normally seen as harmless now become a source of fear in this dark setting. An example would be when the owl is blinking, looking around as if to check its surroundings. By showing tone variation between the owl and the background, it makes the viewer more attentive. It also clues the audience into the idea of something will soon take place in the story.
Reflection is also used to create a sense of a never-ending cycled nightmare. One moment I found very powerful was when two cats are mirroring each other’s movements. The cats begin to turn violent and soon are frightened by the appearance of a skeleton emerging from behind a grave. The cats are an example of the stock market crash, something unexpected and sudden. Americans were terrified when the stock market crashed not knowing that more hardships were to follow.
Repetition is used in the cartoon, to stress an important theme or idea. The skeletons’ in general repeat their actions. This repetition helps keep the viewers focus on the skeletons. The skeletons represent the continuous cycle of terrifying nightmares, causing hysteria and havoc. One could also notice that the cemetery is a repeated scene. If you were to watch the background closely, you would notice that the cemetery is a circular landscape. While the skeletons are dancing they move from one end of the landscape to the other, showing an inescapable cycle. This I think is intentional by the artist; they are making the point that the economic hardships are seemingly like an endless cycle that results in darkness.
The skeletons’ dancing is a humorous contrast to the hardships Americans are faced with. The endless cycle is being celebrated by the skeletons, which I think is trying to make the viewer think less depressing and more optimistic. Walt Disney was making the point that everyone needs to take the positive side of a seemingly terrifying situation.
The humor is directly related to the music featured in the cartoon. The contrast in content and music is used to make a serious topic more lighthearted and gives the audience a sense of hope for the end of their hardships.
No matter how this cartoon is interpreted, no one can deny is sophistication of this cartoon, especially for the time period it was published. The artist elements are cleverly placed and used to support the overall message being told to the viewer. The first Disney cartoon is well made, cleverly created and thought out through their attempts to reach a wide audience.