Walt Disney is the man who got all the fame from the creation of Mickey Mouse, but his chief animator responsible for bringing the lovable rodent to life was Ub Iwerks. For many of Disney’s early animated films, Iwerks was the primary animator. One of his most iconic works, which is very appropriate for this time of year, is the classic Silly Symphony short The Skeleton Dance. Years later, Iwerks would move on to other studios and in 1937 directed an unofficial follow up, Skeleton Frolic.
The action takes place is a spooky church graveyard where we begin by seeing a gnarled old tree come to life and walk around. He is then joined by a bunch of skeletons who start their own late night performance. This includes a whole orchestra of skeletons struggling their way through playing their instruments. It must be hard to blow a trumpet without any lungs.
Eventually we focus in on four skeletons who do a variety of different dance moves. We then move on to some skeleton couples who tango the night away. With the break of dawn, a rooster flies in and crows causing the skeletons to all hurry back to their graves.
There are many moment in Skeleton Frolic that are lifted right out of The Skeleton Dance. The opening shot is almost identical, down to the ringing church bell and a bat flying into the camera. The rooster signaling the end of the cartoon is also right out of Disney’s short, as is the focal point of four skeleton dancing in unison. However, there are several differences, as well. The most notable being that this film is in color, whereas The Skeleton Dance is in black and white. Though Iwerks makes good use of the color, black and white is so much better suited to this material.
Eight years had passed between the two films and it is interesting to see how far animation had come in that time. Whereas the first film features blank, emotionless skeletons, this film gives the skeletons a wide range of expressions and emotions. It’s all expertly animated, but I dare say the stark imagery of the earlier film is much more jarring and creepy. On a whole this version is much more playful. The tango sequence, which would’ve been completely out of place in Disney’s film, is a great example of the more lighthearted nature of this short.
There’s no denying that Skeleton Frolic is a fun and expertly crafted piece of animation. However, it comes nowhere close to surpassing the simple spookiness of its predecessor.