It’s easy to miss how deeply influenced by the supernatural Walt Disney was, and how many of the stories he chose to tell stood on a bedrock of magic and the otherworldly. From the earliest animated shorts, to ALL the fairy tale-based features (think Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), Disney portrayed the spooky actions of witches, wizards, fairies, demons, ghosts, mythological beings, even animate skeletons as self-evident facts of life, or at least possibilities that didn’t require explanation.
Disney also was a lover of Halloween, an advocate for the celebration, or at least the acknowledgment, of a deeper, darker reality beyond the grasp of everyday modern life. Dating all the way back to 1929, Walt Disney’s very first Silly Symphony was the deeply creepy, darkly humorous “Skeleton Dance,” which packs virtually every Halloween symbol — animate wind, malevolent tree, owl, fanged bats, spider, cemetery, full moon, black cats, and of course, dancing skeletons — into five-and-a-half potent minutes.
That same year, Mickey Mouse visited a very frightening “The Haunted House.”
“Night on Bald Mountain,” an eleven-and-a-half minute segment from Disney’s stunning blend of animation and classical music, Fantasia (1941), presents as dark a set of images as exists in mass pop culture from the very opening as a looming, horned, winged demon summons skeletal wraiths from the underworld unto himself from atop Bald Mountain in a frenzy of nocturnal revelry.
Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are “ghost exterminators” who take on contemptuous spirits in 1937’s “The Lonesome Ghosts.”
Donald Duck faces Halloween customs, in particular the “trick” aspect of “Trick Or Treat” in the 1952 short of the same name as Huey, Dewey and Louie are spurred to irksome behavior by Witch Hazel.
Particularly potent is the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), wherein Washington Irving’s Halloween tale involving a lanky, superstitious schoolmaster, a terrifying Headless Horseman, a fateful bridge, and a jack o’ lantern is brought to evocative life.
These are but a sampling of the dark visions that provided shadow to Disney’s much vaunted light and played a key role in spreading the conventions of Halloween in the U.S. and around the world during Walt’s reign from the ’20s through the ’60s.
Lastly, there are numerous reports of the Disney theme parks — in particular the original Disneyland — being haunted. There’s the Haunted Mansion (naturally) ghost boy; guests dumping the ashes of the deceased in the park; numerous ghostly guests and employees, like construction worker George who reportedly haunts Pirates of the Caribbean; and even the ghost of old Walt himself has been spotted throughout the Happiest Place on Earth.