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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.
  • Bookends: 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 the millstone. The rope holding the cogwheel in place breaks and the millstone starts to move. The bird, in a desperate attempt to save her eggs, covers them with her body as the nest approaches the cog. She is saved when it turns out the spoke that goes in that particular hole is missing. Unfortunately, the mill doesn't stop and after the millstone fully rotates back around, she has to repeat the save again, and again, and it's implied that this keeps repeating throughout the storm.
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  • 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.
  • 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 prior to the short's timeframe.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: A necessity, given that the animals aren't anthropomorphic.
  • 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.