May 10, 2015

Review: The Old Mill (1937)

The Old Mill was Disney's 68th Silly Symphony short film out of a total of 75. Even though there were signs that Disney was focusing less and less on Silly Symphony as they planned on making the jump to feature-length animated films, experimentation was still very much part of the whole experience as it had always been.

Case in point, The Old Mill featured a multiplane camera which was invented by William Garity. To keep things simple, the camera was able to give a three-dimensional effect by using seven different layers of artwork all moving at the same time. It became a crucial tool at Disney, later used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as well as many other films. For introducing such an innovative advancement, is it any surprise that The Old Mill won Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards?


At a Glance

Genre: animation, short, comedy
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson
Produced by: Walt Disney
Written by: N/A
Music by: Leigh Harline
Running time: 9 minutes
Production company: Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: N/A



Somewhere in the country, the local wildlife take shelter inside an old, abandoned windmill that they call home. Different types of birds, bats and mice all coexist in harmony. As night descends, a punishing storm could spell disaster for the rickety mill.


Right away, The Old Mill struck me as an opposite to Silly Symphony stablemate Flowers and Trees. FaT was all about showing the forest life waking up in the morning while The Old Mill does the same thing but for life in the mill at night. You can see that with a mother bird getting ready to settle down for the night with her eggs as the bats hanging from the rafters start to yawn and stretch before going out for their nightly bug-hunting. 

The Old Mill really is a technical marvel though. The level of animation that a multiplane camera allows makes for something truly impressive to look at. The old mill seems to be crawling with life and the level of animation skill at Disney is on full display in how something as animation intensive as rain is handled. Simply put, The Old Mill is a massive jump in animation capability at Disney. 

Silly Symphony has many times demonstrated how well animation can be timed to music and The Old Mill is just another example of that. There's a particularly brilliant sequence involving frogs, crickets and fireflies that's like candy. Everybody loves candy right? It's a scene that's just so beautifully crisp and smile-inducing. No one should miss it.

Once the storm starts up, all hell breaks loose. The Old Mill isn't a particularly bright or colourful film and things get even darker once the rain starts pouring and the wind starts howling. The timing of music an animation is still in full effect here too. I was actually reminded of Fantasia a bit with how this scene just builds and builds before exploding. 

The Old Mill is a darker and more brooding short film compared to others that make up Silly Symphony. The big thing here is that TOM is a technical marvel that was hugely important in getting Disney's animated features off the ground. While The Country Cousin, Three Orphan Kittens and The Tortoise and the Hare are cute, The Old Mill is monumental.



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