As Halloween approached, the D23 team racked their skulls to think of every bony character to grace a Disney animated short, theme park attraction, television show, or movie. We unearthed skeletons of all types—some spooky, some creepy, others silly or whimsical, and even a few that are surprisingly adorable. No bones about it, Disney has a lot of skeletons in its closet. And while many may recoil at the sight of skeletons, just like our good pal Pluto (below) in the 1949 animated cartoon Pueblo Pluto, we thought Disney fans would be brave enough to take a look at some of Disney’s more obscure bony buddies.
Some of Disney’s very first skeletons danced their way into our hearts in the 1929 Silly Symphony short film The Skeleton Dance. This macabre tale follows the exploits of four skeletons who turn their graveyard excursion into a midnight musical medley, playing a variety of nontraditional instruments, including each other! Directed by Walt Disney and animated by the legendary Ub Iwerks, one of the short’s classic scenes of the four skeletons dancing side by side has recently been memorialized on a men’s shirt for the Disney Artist Collection at Target. Sounds like a fashionable Halloween choice!
In another Disney animated short, the guy in the famous red shorts gets in on the action as none other than Mickey Mouse himself rides out a storm in 1929′s The Haunted House. Once inside the abandoned house and out of the rain, Mickey finds himself surrounded by a cadre of ghoulish skeletons looking to have a good time. Just like those fellows from The Skeleton Dance, Mickey’s new pals dance and use their bones as instruments, accompanying Mickey on the piano until the storm lets up and our hero can escape.
It seems as though the supernatural take a liking to music, as the souls in the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia rise from their graves in a rousing manner to the driving rhythm of Modest Mussorgsky’s composition. This 1940 film captures the sights of skeletal souls, warriors, and horses rising in a midnight reverie at the behest of Chernabog, the demon who resides at the top of the mount.
The Evil Queen from 1937′s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has a few friendly skeletons in her dungeon. While they aren’t quite as lively as others, they do seem to capture the Queen’s attention, albeit a bit belatedly. You can also see these unfortunate souls at the theme park attractions in Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.
Speaking of unfortunate souls, few people remember the skeleton in The Little Mermaid. At the climactic end, D23 members with a careful eye can see Ursula’s skeleton flash before the sea witch sinks into the deep blue for eternity. D23 snagged you a special shot of the ultimate demise for this venomous villain.
For those of you looking for adventure, skulls are everywhere. A trip to Adventureland in any Disney park worldwide leads to quite a trove of bones. In fact, one skeleton in Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye even has a fancy pair of mouse ears with his named embroidered on them. When you’re careening through the temple, be sure to look out for “Bones” amongst his bony brethren. The collections of the natives and headhunters in Jungle Cruise and the inhabitants of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull at Tokyo DisneySea, prove that for Disney Imagineers, any skeletal structure is possible.
The attraction Pirates of the Caribbean also has bones aplenty! The skeletal remains of these buccaneers play out many a humorous tableau in the caverns of the ride, including one duo that seems perpetually stumped in a chess game for the ages. Another skeleton is seen in bed, surrounded by his treasure, a scene that was incorporated into the fourth blockbuster film of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Another addition from that film has made it to the eponymous attraction at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, where a mermaid skeleton has washed ashore in the opening scenes of the ride, adding an eerie new addition to Disney’s skeletal system.
Jack Skellington, the lead in Tim Burton’s delightful 1993 creation The Nightmare Before Christmas, may be one of the highest-ranking skeletons in the Disney collection. While the “pumpkin king” may not hold an official title in Halloweentown, he certainly has spread his fame beyond the silver screen. Jack takes over the Haunted Mansion at the Disneyland Resort every fall and winter, bringing Halloween and Christmas together for all brave enough to enter the spooky halls, and surveys this seasonal overlay as a walk-about character, stopping with the sewn-together Sally to take pictures with admiring guests. Jack also brings us one of the Disney’s more whimsical skeleton interactions, as D23 members can pick out a skeleton reindeer playing tug-o-war with a resident skeleton pooch in the graveyard scene of the attraction.
There’s another hidden skeleton in the Haunted Mansion that guests may zip on past if they aren’t paying close attention. As guests enter their doom buggies, they pass several paintings hung by the master of the house. Take careful note of the portrait featuring a dapper young man. When lightning strikes he always reveals his astounding bone structure.
Not all of Disney’s skeletons take on human form. Dinosaur bones are littered throughout Disney’s history, including Fantasia. During the “Rite of Spring” segment, the history of earth’s beginnings is played out to the tune of Igor Stravinsky’s iconic song, including the reign and subsequent demise of these “terrible lizards.”
Guests to Disney theme parks can get even closer to these fossils, as many pass under the seven bony ribs of Dinosaur Gap at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster every day. And for those who want a hands-on experience, there is always the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Opening on April 22, 1998, this archeological dig-themed playground has delighted little ones with slides, tunnels, and most importantly, a site where kids can excavate fossils from a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Woolly Mammoth. The Boneyard is also home to one of Disney’s largest skeletons, a dearly departed Sauropod—and the only one you can walk through!
With all this talk of skeletons, guests might be itching to see what it’s like to step into their bones. Well, The Pirate’s League can help! With a little paint and some pirate magic, guests can get a skeletal makeover just in time for Halloween. Of all the Disney skeletons, these are truly one of a kind and the most fun, funny, special—and dare we say human—of all!
By D23′s Brian Gay