The Old Mill
Studio: Disney Release Date : November 5, 1937 Series: Silly Symphony

Cumulative rating:
(4 ratings submitted)


A triumph of mood over plot, the short shows the inhabitants of an ancient, abandoned mill preparing for nightfall and an approaching storm.


#windmills / #NationalFilmRegistry


Won the 1937 Academy Award (Oscar): Best Short Subject


RKO Radio Pictures

Included in:

The Story of the Silly Symphony


  • There is one scene where a bird has nested in the cog of a gearwheel when the wheel begins to turn. The nest is saved when a gear tooth that would have crushed the nest is seen to be missing. However, the tooth is clearly visible is a previous scene. It is also apparent that the gear and the matching wheel have different tooth sizes, so if the missing tooth had saved the nest once, it surely wouldn't have spared them the second time around.


  • First use of Disney's Multiplane Camera.


  • An episode of The Simpsons entitled "Bart Has Two Mommies" contains a sly nod to this short which you might miss unless you look quickly. While competing in a rubber duck race, Homer's duck take a detour to an old mill. He passes a sign which is a reproduction of the title card to the short and later finds himself in the same cogwheel dilemma as the mother bird, complete with the missing cog.


Donald's Quack Attack (Season 1, Episode 38)


United States

Cartoon Classics : First Series : Volume 7 : More of Disney's Best 1932-1946


Meister-Cartoons von Walt Disney


Les Chefs-d'Oeuvre de Walt Disney


I Capolavori di Walt Disney
Le Fiabe Volume 2 : Il Brutto Anatraccolo e Altre Storie

Laserdisc (CLV)


The Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons
Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore
All Star Cartoon Review
Disney Cartoon Festival 6
Starring Chip 'n' Dale


United States

Bambi (Two Disc Platinum Edition)
Bambi (2-Disc DVD)
Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Zauberhafte Marchenwelt 2
Bambi (Special Edition)


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Walt Disney Le Fiabe 3

United Kingdom

Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Walt Disney's Fables : Volume 2


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies

Netherlands / Belgium

Silly Symphonies

BluRay Disc

United States

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Three-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Bambi (Two Disc BluRay / DVD Combo)
Bambi Anniversary Edition

Technical Specifications

Running Time: 8:42
Production No.: RS-1
MPAA No.: 3154
Animation Type: Standard (Hand-drawn-Cel) Animation
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Cinematographic Format: Spherical
Color Type: Technicolor
Negative Type: 35mm
Original Country: United States
Original Language: English
Print Type: 35mm
Sound Type: Mono: RCA Sound Recording

Reviews and Comments

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From Rod Bennett :

One striking visual stunt in this one makes a memorable reappearance in "Fantasia"; lightning flashes and then silhouettes a row of frightened mice hiding in the rafters. In "Fantasia", the mice have become cherubs in a Greek pavilion (Beethoven's 6th) but the effect is the same ... and just as arresting.

From Anonymous :

I read somewhere that this short played ahead of the first animated movie, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

From Jerry Edwards :

One of my top favorite Disney shorts. The animation - especially the special effects - is top-notch. The story line is riveting, especially when it appears that the mill wheel will crush a mother bird and her nest of eggs. The result is stark and terrifying realism, especially when comparing the peaceful quiet with the violence of the storm. I love the "missing spoke" on the wheel goof. I still get a kick out of it every time I watch this short. Some of the animation has been recycled into later shorts and films and TV shows. The scene of the wind blowing reeds against the fence has been re-used several times, including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow portion of the 1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

From J. D. Weil :

Walt Disney took home a technical award for the use of a multiplane camera for this short, but the idea for this goes back a lot farther than this.

For years animators have dreamed of putting depth into the flat backdrops seen in animated shorts and a few of them found solutions in in a number of ways:

In 1934 Max Fleischer created his stereoscopic backdrop which was a miniature set built on a 12 ft. diameter turntable (Some European studios also adopted this approach). The following year (1935) Ub Iwerks used a multiplane camera for his production of "The Headless Horseman" based on Washington Irving's "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow." (It might be interesting to compare this short with Disney's version of the tale from "Ichabod and Mr. Toad"). The Iwerks multiplane was a horizontally mounted fixed focus camera which Iwerks had assembled using the chassis of a Chevrolet pickup truck all for the cost of $750. Disney's multiplane, on the other hand was far more sophisticated, a 14 ft. high monster that was expensive to build (Disney built two of them) and just as expensive to operate requiring a crew of seven. (Disney built an even larger multiplane for "Fantasia" a horizontally mounted camera that was 60 length.)

The large size of these cameras was dictated by the camera optics that were available in the late '30s. Later developments in camera lenses and exposure controls would allow multiplane cameras to be built that were smaller and more user-friendly but Disney never took advantage of these. The Disney Studio retired the multiplanes after the "Jungle Book" was in the can, bringing them briefly out of retirement with a few improvements for "The Black Cauldron". These days, new technologies such as computer generated imagery now available to all studios have made multiplane photography obsolete.

From Diann :

Each frame is a work of art. I enjoy the intricate animation, the music and the timelessness of this work. Animation reached its peak as art in this film.

From Lynn Morgan :

Probably Disney's best early effort.

From Donny Sweeney :

I remember watching this as a young child. It has never left my mind and has made thunder storms all the better for me through out the years. It truly is one of my favorites.

From cc :

This cartoon takes me back to my childhood probably faster than any other, save for maybe the The Grasshopper and the Ants. It starts off quiet and serene, the 'calm before the storm', if you will . . . and the music, mood, and activity all pick up as the storm moves in. It shows in wonderful detail the effect this storm has on the animals, the land, the old mill. I don't remember for sure, or not, but I believe there is no dialogue, which I think helps to make this Disney Short so . . . outspoken. The short ends as peacefully as it begins, a nice, dramatic, 'circular' effect.

From Carla :

Disney tries to achieve perfection in realism in this cartoon, but European crickets do not sing by rubbing their legs against each other, and I have never heard of a species that does. Could it be that Disney and his staff did not know how a cricket makes its sounds?

From Bo Engwall :

This is probably my number one favorite of the Silly Symphonies. I was amazed by the fine artwork when I saw this film the first time nearly 40 years ago. A lovely theme from the changing sides of nature.

From Gonnie Anneveld :

I am not surprised that this is an oscarwinning cartoon. I am surprised of the age of this cartoon. Magnificent! My whole family loves this cartoon!

From Lisa :

I now have a fear of windmills from watching this movie as a child!

From Sharilyn :

This is the most beautiful Silly Symphony I have ever seen, and the most realistic. If you are a fan of Snow White's old world style you will love this one! It is a masterpiece. Many of the same designers and artists of Snow White created the Old Mill. I first saw it in a Wonderful World of Disney Halloween Special. This is in circulation but expensive. I believe it was Disney's Halloween Treat and there are 2 of them so make sure you get the right one.

From Baruch Weiss :

A very stunning short if ever I've seen one!

From Ed :

Very scary but good.

From Julie Arsenault :

I absolutely love this cartoon, it's beautifully animated under the direction Wilfred Jackson, who also directed the "Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria" segment from "Fantasia", and a few favorite Silly Symphonies like :

1.The Cat's Out (1931)
2.The Bears and Bees (1932)
3.Lullaby Land (1933)
4.The Goddess of Spring (1934)
5.The Country Cousin (1936) and...
6.Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938)
but this short is my all-time favorite on "My Favorite Silly Symphonies" list. I love the scene at night (it is just gorgeous), and I also love the little swallow family (they are sooooo adorable).

From Dino Cencia :

Wow, I remembered this short a long time ago! This was one of my favorite Disney shorts. This short was on A Disney Halloween and when I watched the short when I was little, it was a little scary for me but now I'm not scared of this short. This short reminds me of a bad thunderstorm I had yesterday. There was a heavy wind advisory and rain changing over to snow and freezing rain. And maybe sometime I will buy the Walt Disney Treasures Silly Symphonies with this short on it. I really loved this short! I give this short a 999 out of 999.

From Jordi :

My name is Jordi, I'm from Spain and I'm 18 and I love this short! When I was I child I saw it in that video which had some shorts awarded with Oscars, The Three Little Pigs, and this was my favorite! I became very obsessed with it and I used to draw mills all the day. I think is great, the music and the effects are amazing The scene when the thunder broke the mill is very violent; every time I see it, I get emotional! Now I'm nostalgic and I return to my childhood when I see it.

From Josh Perez :

This short has become one of of my favorite animated shorts ever. I first saw it in one of the platinum edition of Bambi. It is still fairly new to me but the animation is excellent. This is animation at it's best. I only hope that future generations also have the chance to view this and other animated treasures from the golden era of animation.

From Klaus Disney :

German Title: Die alte Mühle

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project :

We have seen a lot of landmarks in our review of the Disney films, but The Old Mill is especially significant. I would almost be willing to say that it is the most important short since Steamboat Willie, for the contribution it makes to the future of Disney animated films, both shorts and features.

Of course, the big news of this short is the development of the multiplane camera. For those of you who do not know (and I doubt that’s many of you), the multiplane camera was developed to help the animated films have more depth. The idea was to put each piece of the background on a separate piece, so the camera could move between them easily and show more dimension on screen.

It’s readily apparent from the beginning of the short that this is the case. The opening shot of the mill as seen through a spider weaving a web is stunning, and it continues. Later on in the short, as night creeps around the setting, we see fireflies lighting up the night. Again, the lush backgrounds feel alive in this shot.

The story of the short is also important. There are no words in this short, just music and fantastic animation to tell the complete story. It’s what the Silly Symphonies were created as – a medium to tell stories through animation and music. One can imagine Walt and his crew seeing this and thinking about making Fantasia.

The idea is that night is falling around the mill, and a storm is brewing. The animals around the mill react in different ways. What’s important to me is that the film progresses naturally. It is realistic in a way we have not seen before in these films. You can watch this short and believe that it would happen this way in nature.

There are so many little moments in this short that make it fantastic. The big drama is the blue bird that sits in the spot of a gear, and only gets a reprieve from having her babies crushed because there is a spoke missing on one of the gears.

But there are many more. Seeing the bats in the top of the mill stretch like humans when they wake up and then fly away is fantastic. The mice whose eyes stick out in the middle of the night then are illuminated by the flash of lightning are also great. My favorite is the pair of lovebirds who sit on one piece of wood towards the window, and never stop nuzzling each other throughout the whole storm, and they are there again at the end, still in love. There is a sweet, consistent message there.

The main difference between this and other Silly Symphonies is that things are so realistic. In the past, we have seen little slice of life shorts, but they have shown us that the animals are dancing and singing when we are not around. In The Old Mill, we see an innocent, pastoral take on life that builds to a dramatic event of the storm. It’s a fantastic, Academy Award winning piece of filmmaking, and it’s unforgettable to anyone who sees it.

From Mac :

This Disney short really is like no other. It is a cartoon where a genuine attempt has been made to create a real piece of art and it succeeds (I can forgive a couple of kitschy moments where the animation doesn't live up to the beauty of the backdrops).

This isn't a cartoon I re-watch as much as I do many others. I think that's because it doesn't quite fit what I want to see when I feel like I want to watch a cartoon. However, it does something very special and, although this may make me sound stupid, I actually feel calm and peaceful when this short comes to an end. It's hard to describe.

Somehow the music and animation captures the feeling of a storm much better than any live action footage I have seen. You can almost feel that cold rain and smell that damp wood. I don't want to gush too much, but I do think that this is a special cartoon.

From Tom Wilkins :

From the trees and behind a spiderweb, there lies an old mill. In its tranquil background lie the animals who are about to call it a night, as the cows follow one another and the ducks swim for some food for their young.

As the scene pans inside the mill, there lies a sparrow in its nest. A friendly bird with a worm comes flying by and gives the worm to the sparrow, then exchange pleasantries with one another. We continue to two other birds flirting behind a gorgeous sunset, then to a surprisingly awake wise owl perched on his post followed by loads of bats resting in the darkest portions of the mill. As the bats awaken and fly out, the camera pans to the lake and retrieves the shimmers as a leaf hits the water.

Moving closer, the plants close up for the night, but under one of them is a frog who "ribbits" a few times just to get the attention of the rest of the frogs. Inevitably, they help out, and the themed "Silly Symphony" takes on its truest meaning with a chorus of frogs, crickets, and fireflies chirping away at a symphonic piece of animal music that even Beethoven would have trouble understanding. The lead frog later lassoes a firefly with his tongue and lights up (as would have been expected). After that, it was time for every living creature (including the audience) to take cover.

You can easily sense the score of the music leading into very dramatic rising action. The wind begins to howl as the storm approaches, and we take a look inside the old mill to see how our animal buddies are doing. The owl is still perched on his post but is asleep, certainly not making him a night owl. The sparrow begins to rock back and forth and shows a horrific expression as the rope gets closer to breaking off. As lightning becomes visible, the owl finally wakes up after his post shakes, and the sparrow hangs on to her eggs for dear life as the rope finally breaks and sets the mill in motion, slowly at first, then at neckbreaking speeds. As the mill finally moves, and the wind fiercely howls, the owl is getting quite a workout staying put on his perch, but once he landed in the middle of the spinning wheel, he wisely flew to safer ground near the top of the mill.

Once the rain finally arrives, we notice a door slamming. Behind that door are some mice, who certainly were scared with this severe thunderstorm. The lovebirds were still cuddling, thinking that nothing is happening, and the owl feels a drop on his head - so he moves a few inches. However, roof tiles get blown away and the owl gets drenched.

The howling wind gets to a tree with many open holes in it and brings out a chorus of operatic howls. It later shows weeds hitting a fence and more weeds splitting in half (thus the piccolo sounds). At this point, now that everyone has been accounted for, the climax is all set to go.

The shutter slams. The sparrow still twirls around and around. The mice hide in fear as lightning strikes. The lovebirds hang in there as the mill is losing piece by piece. More roof tiles patter. The door finally breaks. A lightning strike, more pieces of the mill fly, and the fence finally blows away. Scenes repeat faster and faster until finally, the climax. Lightning strikes the mill, causing it to tilt. Of course the animals went with the lean as well. The storm finally moves away. From the weeds breaking in half to the lightning strike lie 31 scenes in 33 seconds. No wonder Disney brought home an Oscar for best cartoon that year.

As morning breaks with glamorous light, the bats fly back to the mill, which noticeably was much brighter thanks to the damage it took from the storm. The owl awakens to a hole in the mill as he was sleeping on his perch ... and his facial expression was complete disbelief. And then the two lovebirds ... yes, they're still going at it like nothing happened. How long could they last? The mice crawl, and the sparrow's eggs hatch. Mommy and Daddy come to greet their newborns with worms.

The cows head back to the farm, the ducks back to the lake ... and it's off to another day, as the music pans us away ... at the old mill.