The 1920s and the 1930s found studios changing the landscape of animation with some landmark short films that would later set the precedent for many more animated shows and feature films. From Steamboat Willie (Mickey Mouse’s debut) to The Skeleton Dance, Walt Disney had a monopoly over such shorts, churning out one production after the other.
However, despite the technical brilliance, some of these animations haven’t aged well given they were products of their time. For instance, the Paramount release Chinatown, My Chinatown incorporated several problematic Chinese stereotypes. Around the same time, other shorts like Lullaby Land are simply weird for their time, playing around with some surreal themes.
The Skeleton Dance is arguably one of the most popular shorts of the black-and-white era, immortalized by its titular dance sequence. Animated by Ub Werks and directed by Walt Disney, the 6-minute-long film was also the first Silly Symphonies feature.
It revolves around four skeletons just dancing, frolicking, and making ‘spooky music’ around a graveyard. With synchronized moves, the dance grows intimate as the skeletons incorporate each other’s bones in their routine. They use each other’s bones to create music and eventually get mingled with each other resulting in an amalgamation of bones that rests in a grave.
A highly-racist film, Chinatown, My Chinatown can be viewed as a time capsule for its period.
Stereotypical accents. Gong music. Nonsensical gibberish doubling as Mandarin. A Chinese man eating not just food but even a shirt with chopsticks. Another Chinese man ironing the shirt; laundromats were mostly run by Chinese immigrants back then. A fight between the two men with their ‘pointy hats’ as weapons. The short film ticks off all the East-Asian stereotypes of the 1920s.
Quite dark for a ‘Silly Symphony’, this Disney short features a tree falling towards the human vice of jealousy. A wrinkly, hollow tree grows envious of a younger tree who seeks to propose to another female tree. This eventually prompts the hollow tree to trigger a forest fire that puts all other surrounding animals in danger.
Thanks to the birds poking holes in the sky, torrents of rain touch the ground and extinguish the fire. Even though the day is saved and the tree couple goes ahead with their matrimonial romance, it turns out that the hollow tree perished in the fire that he started. While Flowers and Trees carries a good-enough moral with it, the hollow tree’s fate somehow still feels quite tragic.