10 spooky cartoon shorts Disney doesn’t want you to see…
While I’d like to think I’m a multifaceted fella, regular Laser Time readers/listeners/wellwishers would probably describe me as one thing above all else: A Disney Nerd. For the purposes of this article, that suits me just fine. I’m a pretty avid collector of old cartoons, so I’ve curated a list of Disney shorts that are beyond perfect for Halloween viewing. Not only have I gathered the choicest Disney animated Halloween fare below with additional dorky information, I’ve created a YouTube playlist for anyone to enjoy in a single uninterrupted viewing.
TRUST ME, WATCH IT ALLLLLLLLL
This is only possible because of Disney’s relative indifference to its early animated output being posted all over the web (save for one specific exemption) and that’s sort of were the “unofficial” part of the headline comes in. For one reason or another, these shorts are not the kind of thing Disney crows very loudly about anymore. You’re about to witness several classic pieces of animation that no longer air on television, and most of them haven’t been sold to the general public on home media for at least a decade. But this being Halloween, I think it’s a better time than any to… remember the dead.
Skeleton Dance, 1929
This is too iconic for anyone remotely interested in animation not to recognize. The Skeleton Dance is one of most enduring pieces of Disney animation ever, but it’s also hyper symbolic of cartoons from that era’s typical overreliance on two-stroke dance gags. But damned if it doesn’t convey a fun, relatively spooky, and all-ages vibe perfect for this time of year. And cartoon aficionados should keep an eye on those opening credits.
Billed with the short’s composition is none other than Carl Stalling, the famed Looney Tunes maestro who too often goes uncredited as one of the originators of Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” series, a sub-brand of music-based Disney toonage meant to separate it from Mickey Mouse’s friendly antics. The Skeleton Dance isn’t just the first Silly Symphony, it’s also The Walt Disney Company’s first historic foray into Halloweeny territory. If it were the last this’d be a short article…
The Haunted House, 1929
There are two reasons Disney doesn’t want you to see 1929’s “The Haunted House” starring Mickey Mouse. For one, it’s one of the least interesting Mickey shorts from a period where the famous rodent was, by today’s standards, kicking ass and taking names. Mickey used to drink, punch, abuse animals and screw with his enemies in ways folks familiar with only his squeaky-clean corporate mascot wouldn’t recognize. Which brings us to the major reason for Haunted House’s burial: Blackface gags!
It’s only a brief Al Jolson impression, which virtually every animated creature did pre-WWII, but yeah, watch at your own risk. Me? Hey, I’m a white dude who’s not offended by much, let alone uncontextualized racism from long-dead animators, and yeah… I can’t deny getting a thrill the inherent naughtiness of such scenes. Beyond that historical footnote, there really isn’t a whole lot interesting or remarkable about “Haunted House.” It puts Mickey in the corner so it can focus on ghosts n’ ghouls prancing about, much of which is ripped off wholesale from The Skeleton Dance. However, it makes for a wonderful lead in for our next cartoon…
The Mad Doctor, 1933
“The Mad Doctor” is rather infamous for several reasons, and coincidentally, almost none of them make Disney very happy! First of all, the subject matter is pretty grotesque. The titular doctor kidnaps Pluto in order to cut out his guts and splice him with a chicken, so Mickey must run through a gauntlet of sinister skeletons and sharp, murderous blades to get his trusty pup back. (Of course, in true Disney fashion, SPOILER: it’s all eventually revealed to be a dream, but it’s not like that’s going to make your kid uncry.)
More importantly, “The Mad Doctor” is one of a handful of cartoons Disney mistakenly let slip into public domain. Never mind that Mickey is held aloft as the poster boy for America’s constantly shifting copyright laws, no lawyer born in cowboy times could’ve foreseen absolutely everything, so my generation grew up watching “The Mad Doctor” on plenty of bargain bin, truck stop VHS tapes featuring other questionably obtained toons.
Strangely, this amplified exposure has given the good doctor a bit of unforeseen longevity, and led to plenty of reappearances. He’s got a fun cameo in the Roger Rabbit short “Tummy Trouble” and he appears in numerous videos games, most notably in Epic Mickey 2, where he got to play the big bad again for the first time in 80 years.
The Old Mill, 1937
Although the breathtaking short has been included in many an official Disney Halloween package, it’s certainly the kind of cartoon that can be enjoyed year round. Before you watch it and complain, understand that this is the kind of thing only Pixar gets to do nowadays. Animators bust their ass for years on feature films, which can be both a drag and creatively unfulfilling. But occasionally they’re allowed/possibly forced to work on something a little weirder, a little more experimental, and it’s only possible in this short format. If you’re being cynical, this will look like little more than fleeting scenes of cute animals stitched together with some 1930s weather FX. I suppose the latter is partially true, but my personal reading of “The Old Mill” is why I’d recommend it for the most morbid time of year: It’s the only Disney short on this list that kills its main character.
The Old Mill is the star of this picture and you literally get to watch it throttled to death. Furthermore, it’s punctuated with something pretty beautiful in the finale, as all the animals emerged with their world unscathed and unchanged in the face of the fall of yet another one of man’s foolish machinations. I’m hardly alone in my undying love for “The Old Mill.” It won Disney an Oscar, and you can still see it represented in Disneyland Paris and occasionally in California Adventure’s World of Color showcase. (Sadly, The Old Mill miniature was only recently removed from Disneyland’s Storybook Land to make way for more Frozen representation. Why you dirty millennials…)
The Lonesome Ghosts, 1937
Released on Christmas Eve, this here is the ORIGINAL GHOSTBUSTERS. No, not that stupid thing that lucked into a 1986 Filmation cartoon, I’m talking about a gang of bros whose job to it is bring down the paranormal. Yep, Mickey, Donald and Goofy did it first, as the only onscreen employees of the Ajax Ghost Exterminators, forced to head to a haunted house and rid it of undead palookas.
A version of superior quality was unembeddable. Click here to view that one
This is essentially the first and only time they’ve all battled ghosts together and I personally believe the short’s influence casts a mighty wide net. Many believe that Ray Parker Jr’s immortal Ghostbusters theme was at least partially inspired by Goofy’s throwaway line “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” and gamers have encountered the Lonesome Ghosts in numerous titles, such as Mickey’s Magical Quest, Mickey Mania and Epic Mickey.