The Old Mill – a study in nature

Walt Disney’s animated short film The Old Mill won an Academy Award in 1938, and it is remarkable not only because it’s a beautiful film, and pioneered the multi-plane camera, but also for how it depicts nature.

The mill itself is merely the backdrop for the story. The main characters are the animals — in the opening minutes we see creatures who live outside the mill (a spider, ducks, cattle, frogs, crickets) and those who live inside the mill (a pair of nesting bluebirds, doves, mice, bats, and a wide-eyed owl.) All are living peacefully until a storm sets in, and everyone ducks for cover.

The mill is forced to battle the elements, and it nearly topples over — but somehow all becomes right in the end, and nature’s balance is restored. We get the sense that the abandoned mill, built by human hands, is not long for this world and won’t survive too many more storms. But the birds, the mice, the owl — the creatures of nature will somehow always pull through, if left to their own devices. If only we would let them.

3 thoughts on “The Old Mill – a study in nature

  • October 12, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks for posting this, John! I’d heard of “The Old Mill” but never seen it before. It plays out like a study for “Bambi” (1942). Says on Wikipedia that they started production in 1939 while working on “Fantastia” (1940). A lot of similar techniques/themes are being explored in the set of films.

    My favorite moment from Bambi:

    (great song, too!)

  • October 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve always loved this! I miss the gentleness of those old Disney works. Maybe they’ll go back to it someday, since Lasseter is such a big Miyazaki fan.

  • October 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Yes, this is quite a classic. Note that the animals don’t talk or crack jokes. Imagine that! Some of the Pixar shorts approach this level of subtle storytelling, though not so much lately.

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