Silly Symphonies: The Skeleton Dance and The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Skeleton Dance is atmospheric, surreal, and visually eccentric this has led me to the conclusion that it may have inspired the Nightmare Before Christmas, to some degree.

There is a distinct and unique phenomenon in The Nightmare Before Christmas, in that it overturns the world of traditional fairy tales, showing the darkness of horror, but it does not bring any feelings of fear to the audience. The Nightmare before Christmas reflects a similarity to The Skeleton Dance in that it is a fantasy mixed with horror, magic, darkness, and interesting macabre characters such as dancing skeletons which occur as the main characters in The Skeleton Dance and as Jack Skellington in the Nightmare Before Christmas. However, in the opening song of The Nightmare Before Christmas, ‘This is Halloween’ five hanged skeletons appear hanging from the branches of a tree and dance at the ends of their nooses. These five skeletons are so similar to the four, which appear in The Skeleton Dance that you can’t help but draw to the conclusion that this was a nod to the older short animation that inspired The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Carl W. Stalling, who was Disney’s music director during 1929, arranged Grieg’s ‘March Of The Dwarfs’ as the musical accompaniment to The Skeleton Dance. The music combined with Ub Iwerks’ masterful drawing, made this black & white cartoon an incredible iconic piece, which still holds a sense of dark enchantment for audiences today. In this way it is once again similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas which has become a ‘Cult Classic’ in the eyes of many viewers.

The Nightmare before Christmas and The Skeleton Dance hold to Bakhtin’s theory of carnivalesque. In Bakhtin’s view, people will live a life focussed around the Carnival or the carnivalesque as long as the laws of carnival are followed. “A carnival is a moment when everything (except arguably violence) is permitted. It occurs on the border between art and life, and is a kind of life shaped according to a pattern of play. It is usually marked by displays of excess and grotesqueness. It is a type of performance, but this performance is communal, with no boundary between performers and audience.
Carnivalesque Quote

In 1989 Bakhtin said his feel of carnival was that it is full of grotesque realism and that this is what got rid of the horrible things in the world. The use of grotesque style can also turn a world, which should appear creepy and loathsome into a bright and cheerful one. There is a carnivalesque feeling in Nightmare Before Christmas and The Skelton Dance; because of this feeling the viewer is successfully removed from the fear these types of scenes could otherwise induce.


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