Mummy Movies: Did Disney Get There Before Universal?

Egyptian Melodies

I’m still on a mummy kick, and here’s another tidbit I’ve found.

The Mummy – the 1932 Universal film with Boris Karloff – is, for all intents and purposes, where the horror subgenre of the mummy movie began. There were a few earlier films that played with the idea of the resurrected mummy, but from what I can discern about these mostly-lost movies, they didn’t quite get the ingredients right. They had people dressing up as mummies as jokes, for example, or used offbeat concepts like mummies being resurrected through electric shocks (as per Jane C. Loudon’s science fiction epic The Mummy! or Poe’s humorous “Some Words with a Mummy”).

But then we have this.

Egyptian Melodies is a Disney cartoon released in 1931, a year before Universal’s The Mummy. It starts off with a door in the front of the Sphinx opening, and an anthropomorphised spider tip-toeing his way inside. In the depths of the tomb, an hourglass alarm-clock rings and four mummies hop out of their sarcophagi to dance a merry jig.

Now, a modern observer would likely assume that the cartoon is lampooning horror films about mummies. And yet, horror films about mummies didn’t really exist when Egyptian Melodies was made. Furthermore, the dancing mummies are immediately followed by dancing wall paintings; so it seems that the animators were interested less in playing with the macabre, as in Disney’s earlier Skeleton Dance, and more in coming up with stuff in Egyptian tombs that could be portrayed dancing (inanimate objects that come to life and dance being favourite themes in cartoons of this era). But if only by coincidence, the cartoon hits a number of the same beats as the stereotyped mummy movie: the protagonist venturing into a forbidding tomb, the mummies rising from their coffins, and the living mummy as an object of fear (the spider’s reaction is to yell “mummy!”). The cartoon manages to parody a genre that didn’t exist at the time.

Egyptian Melodies

And while we’re at it, the sequence where the spider walks through the tomb is a dead ringer for old dungeon-crawler RPGs like Bard’s Tale. Pretty prescient cartoon all round, then.

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