As I mentioned in Flowers and Trees, the Silly Symphonies collection of films were very important for Disney and the development of animation. Using Technicolor to enhance their success, they provided Disney with the opportunity to explore new worlds and characters away from Mickey Mouse.
Released in 1937, The Old Mill is another one of those films that was instrumental in the testing of new techniques, the most significant being the Multiplane camera.
This camera allowed for increased depth and new special effects such as moving water and flickering lights. Perfected in 1937, it was put to the test with The Old Mill, and as a result made animation history.
At a running time of 9 minutes, the film focuses on the situation of an old mill and its current use as a safe and dry home for a variety of wildlife – birds, bats, mice etc. One night there is a storm and their reverie is in danger. The mill gets battered, bruised, and forced into a different location, but once the storm has ceased, it retains its value as a well-loved home.
The story sounds simple and yet the film is a complex piece of animation, combining the multiplane camera, Technicolor, and synchronised sound.
What I find particularly striking about this beautiful film is the characterisation of the mill. It is only a building but it one can see that it is well loved and it’s sad when it starts falling apart due to the strength of the storm. The backdrop of trees, ponds and a serene countryside is also the perfect, idyllic location to get lost in, further enhancing Disney’s foray into fantasy and a nostalgia for the quietness and slower pace of the past.
Compared to many Silly Symphonies films, The Old Mill has considerable influence and importance over a number of Disney properties today. However most of it comes down to the multiplane camera. It was a valuable tool for Pinocchio and it was then continually used in Disney animated films up to The Little Mermaid before it was sidelined by the CAPS system popular with Renaissance films. There are three cameras still in existance, each one still owned and looked after by Disney:
- Walt Disney Animation Studios, Burbank
- The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco
- The Art of Disney Animation, Walt Disney Studios (Disneyland Paris)
The Old Mill is also represented in Disneyland Paris as an ex-attraction in Fantasyland near the Storybook land, honouring the mills of Norway (Les Pirouettes du Vieux Moulin). Whilst it no longer runs, its presence is important to the greater European feel of Fantasyland and in keeping this short film alive.
It is also held in high regard in terms of Hollywood history, being voted in at #14 of the 50 greatest cartoons by leading names in the animation industry (coming 4th out of all 8 Disney animated shorts considered).
What do you think of this short film?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!