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Western Animation / The Old Mill

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The Old Mill is a 1937 Silly Symphonies short and is considered one of the most important shorts in the Classic Disney Shorts lineup. While the short has no plot or concrete characters, what carries it is its astounding animation quality being made not long before the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was meant to not only prepare the animators to the grueling task of completing the aforementioned film, but also to test Disney's then new Multiplane Camera and techniques for effects shots. The results are nothing short of jaw-dropping naturalistic, fluid animation; rich, lush, three-strip Technicolor; and some very, very impressive staging, mood, and use of scenery. Also a source of Nightmare Fuel near the end.

Tropes present in this cartoon:

  • Animation Bump: Oh yeah.
    • This was the first film to use the Multiplane Camera, which shot artwork on separate levels of glass moving at different speeds to create a feeling of depth. They are put to spectacular effect in the opening scenes.
    • The handling of the animal characters, as well as the effects animation for all the rain, wind and lightning, is the most realistic attempted at Disney up to that point.
  • Book Ends: The cartoon opens and closes on a picturesque shot of the mill.
  • Butt-Monkey: Most of the owl's not-fourth-wall-breaking screentime shows bad things happening to him. He seems to get it worse than most of the other animals.
  • By Wall That Is Holey: A bird has her nest in one of the spokeholes of a large wooden gear. The rope holding the cogwheel in place breaks and the gear starts to move. The bird desperately covers her eggs with her body as the nest approaches the cog. Fortunately, the spoke that goes in that particular hole has rotted away, leaving a cavity just big enough for her. Unfortunately, the mill keeps turning, and she has to duck again and again until lightning strikes the sails and the gear comes to a halt.
  • Ethereal Choir: The howling wind just before (and at one point, during) the storm is portrayed as being this.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Yep, it's a mill. And it's really old.
  • Ground by Gears: Averted, as a missing spoke is all that saves the mother bird and her eggs from being crushed as the gears are set in motion.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When the nest seems about to be crushed, the mother bird throws herself over her eggs in a desperate attempt to protect them.
  • Malevolent Architecture: The storm turns the mill into one, as two birds have nested inside a pit where a cog fits. Thankfully, said cog had weathered away.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: A necessity, given that the animals aren't anthropomorphic.
  • Motion Parallax: As far as animation goes, this is the first short film recorded with a Multiplane Camera, then edge-cutting equipment that allowed shooting different pieces of artwork (of the backgrounds and characters) mounted on glass levels at different speeds. Thus resulting in an illusion of depth particularly exploited in the opening scenes.
  • Never Recycle a Building: The windmill's been there long enough to severely decay and attract several varieties of birds, mice and a colony of bats, but the presence of bell-wearing cattle suggests that there's humans somewhere close by.
  • No Antagonist: Unless you count Mother Nature.
  • No Fourth Wall: Several of the creatures seem to be aware of the camera, turning to look at it while it pans by. The owl, in particular, seems to look right at the audience a good deal.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The film is a mood piece (and a test to see which animators would be up to the task to work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), and has no real plot or characters.
  • Recycled Animation: The cattail animation was later recycled for the climax of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It also appeared in Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day and The Little Mermaid.
  • Scenery Porn: Pretty much seven minutes of it.
  • Serendipitous Symphony: During the storm. A frog outside the mill also invokes this prior to the storm by croaking to attract its brethren, who proceed to churn out a rhythmic piece via their collective croaking.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: The two doves who just cannot back off from one another, no matter how bad the weather gets. And they're right there with each other come daybreak.
  • Silent Snarker: Though none of it is expressed verbally, the owl has a very sardonic, sarcastic attitude expressed through some of his fourth-wall-breaking stares at the audience, especially after he's been rudely disturbed from his rest by an influx of runoff water or the sound of the mill nearly toppling down.
  • When It Rains, It Pours: And thunders.
  • Windmill Scenery: Pretty much the entire purpose of the short.