10 Essential Early Disney Shorts for the Eerie Inclined
When I think about why I love Disney so much hundreds of reasons come to mind but one of the biggest is it's rich, and might I say very spooky, history. You can’t even talk about the beginning of Disney Animation without it’s hundreds of shorts released over the decades. Since I was a little kid I’ve been watching these shorts, as I’m sure you all have, and have been frightened and delighted by them countless times. Since we’re less than 100 days from next Halloween I thought it would only be appropriate to bring you some eerie cheer by remembering ten of my favorite spooky Disney shorts. While some are hard to come by these days I believe you can find most of them on Ye Olde Youtube.
All images in this post are property of Walt Disney Studios
The Skeleton Dance 1929
Anyone who says Disney doesn’t have a dark side obviously doesn’t know the studio's roots. Skeleton Dance is the first of the Silly Symphony shorts making it among Disney’s earliest works. Deliciously chilling, it is clear that they were not trying to shy away from the macabre.
Hell’s Bells 1929
Also an early Silly Symphony, Hell’s Bells' title gets pretty literal. This one features demons playing bone instruments in hell and dancing around, apparently quite enjoying themselves. There is bell ringing by a Disneyfied Satan and the milking of a very strange cow (the milk is fire?) so yeah… this is a weird one.
The Haunted House 1929
In this short Mickey happens upon a haunted house in a storm and is forced to play music for the Grim Reaper who just so happens to be quite the little dancer.
Okay… this one isn’t very dark at all. But I do always associate autumn with that chilly feeling leading up to Halloween. The scariest thing about this short is some rather cranky waterfowl shaking their tail feathers and some lovely black and white fall foliage.
Egyptian Melodies 1931
A shoe and glove wearing spider ends up in a tomb with dancing mummies. Hilarity ensues. The spider goes out of his mind crazy and then flees the scene.
The Mad Doctor 1933
An evil scientist abducts Pluto in the night for some very inappropriate torturous animal testing. Yes, Disney went there. This one features many of “fun house” effects like the endless ladder that are still referenced by other films and tv shows to this day. If you’re an avid toon watcher you might recognize the iconic moment of the match being blown out by a skeleton from the intro to Gravity Falls.
Lonesome Ghosts 1937
From the opening music alone you can see ground work for the future Haunted Mansion attraction. Dripping with ectoplasmic bliss, this is definitely one of my favorite works Disney has ever made. Some bored ghosts call Mickey, Donald and Goofy who are advertising as ghost exterminators. It is so incredibly goofy and eerie watching the ghosts take pleasure in haunting. As one of the earlier color shorts you can see the ghastly green tones that have become so iconic in the Mansion. Spoiler - this one ends with the ghosts getting scared of the gang because they think that they’re actually also ghosts. Also… Goofy says “I ain’t scared of no ghosts.” I can only assume that this short was a huge inspiration for Ghostbusters.
The Old Mill 1937
“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.” - Bram Stoker
If I didn’t know he was talking about howling wolves I’d assume he was referring to the woodland creatures in this short. This is the harrowing story of an old (you guessed it) mill and a few birds in peril. It also features some adorably sleepy bats.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1949
Part of the Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, this is the story we all know and love adorned by the music of the incomparable Bing Crosby. Beware, the songs will get stuck in your head. That Headless Horseman tho…
Trick or Treat 1952
While we’re on the subject of songs getting stuck in your head, the theme for this short plays twice within its under 10 minute run and is a major ear worm. In this film we follow Witch Hazel as she helps Huey, Dewey and Louie trick or treat. “Bless their little black hearts,” this witch definitely gets my aesthetic. She basically uses spells and potions to torment and scare Donald into dishing out the candy. Singing sparkly ghosts and pumpkins make this one black magic gold.
BONUS - A Night on Bald Mountain 1941
I was hesitant to put this one in the list because… well… it’s not really silly at all. It’s actually pretty scary. But it would be impossible to talk about the history of Disney’s early spooks and frights without acknowledging A Night on Bald Mountain and the inimitable Chernabog. As a scene from Fantasia, this short brings ghosts, demons and shadows to life in a masterpiece of moving artwork.
Who’s ready to start counting down the days 'til fall? I hope these shorts help you get in the spirit prematurely. It’s never too early to search for a little black magic in your day. Which one is your favorite? Did I miss any spooky shorts that you love? Let me know in the comments!