A Year in Shorts, Day 5: "The Old Mill"

Contrary to what their title would have you believe, Disney's Silly Symphonies were very serious business for the company. Far from being amusing diversions, Walt Disney thought of the shorts as an opportunity for his artists to push the boundaries of what they could do. And few pushed the envelope quite so well as today's short, the Oscar-winning The Old Mill.

(via imdb)

Released in 1937, the premise for the short couldn't be simpler- a bunch of animals living in and around an old mill pond try to seek shelter from a storm. (Please note that this short is NOT to be confused with The Old Mill Pond from 1936, which is... well, it's different to say the least).

And by "different", I of course mean "pretty racist."

(via imdb)

No, The Old Mill is a simple short in terms of story, but in terms of artistry it is incredibly complex. At the time Disney was also making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and as such the animators were testing out new techniques and technologies, including their multiplane camera. Watching The Old Mill now, you can definitely see the seeds of scenes from Snow White, Pinocchio or Bambi.

But of course, all of that is more indicative of The Old Mill's quality as a technical reel or a piece of animation history than it is as a movie. And since this is a film blog, not an animation blog, we should probably get into that.

All in all, it's hard to fault The Old Mill for anything. It's suitably moody and atmospheric, with some absolutely stunning moments of beauty. My particular favorite is the shot of the crickets as they interrupt the chorus of frogs.

If I had to lodge any complaints against the film, they'd all be fairly minor ones. Sometimes the anthropomorphization of the animals seems out of place from the short's realistic aesthetic. And I have to admit that while the music is lovely, the arrangement of Strauss' "One Day When We Were Young" can be fairly choppy at times.

These are all just details, however, and ultimately I can't imagine anyone disliking the short. It's not one of my favorite Disney shorts (what can I say, I'm a sucker for Donald Duck?), but it's certainly one I can see myself turning to when I want to sit back and enjoy some beautiful imagery for ten minutes.

Keep up with our Oscar Baiting journey by visiting my ranked list on Letterboxd!

The Old Mill is available to watch on Disney +

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