Okay, so maybe it’s not surprising that Hayao Miyazaki himself isn’t the world’s biggest fan of Disney. That said, it’s also not surprising that he’s a fan of this particular cartoon. It is in many ways the most Miyazaki short Disney’s ever done. I hate to go down an old Dissolve joke route, here, but it’s really just a tone poem. There’s broadly speaking a little plot, but that’s not why you’re watching. You’re watching mostly for the animation.
There is, indeed, an old mill. It is clearly no longer in use, and it now houses an animal population. The mill pond has frogs and ducks and things. Mice live in the beams. A pair of birds have a nest, and eggs, in the cogwheel. An owl lives up above. It’s all very bucolic. Then a summer storm comes up. The rope holding the bits of the mill in place wears out and breaks, putting the eggs in danger and disturbing the owl.
Disney tended to use the shorts to test out techniques for the features, which makes a lot of sense. This was the first use of their multiplanar camera, most notable in the beginning and end, when we are slowly moving in and then pulling back again. The spiderweb is truly amazing, for 1937 animation. It won the Animated Short Oscar, though it was a strangely sparse year, with only three nominees. Still, you can see the techniques that Disney would start building into their animation in years to come.
There are several different emotional reactions created by the short, which is impressive in nine minutes. I don’t know if you entirely fear for the bird and her eggs, especially once you work out that, no, they’re not all going to be crushed. But you do feel her fear, and of course she’s a bird and not necessarily aware that being saved once means they’re not going to be crushed at all. But there’s also the comedy of the owl getting wet, and the serenity from before the storm begins, and all in all, it’s really quite nice.
It’s a cartoon I come back to now and again because it just feels nice. And it’s a nice one to use if you, like me, are a One Holiday At A Time person and want to space things out between Halloween and Christmas. (I don’t start celebrating Christmas until my birthday is over, but I understand if other people start gearing up before December 7.) This may canonically be a summer storm, but the short has long felt autumnal to me. Yes, okay, crickets. But still. Apparently the music is Strauss the Younger, what music there is, but mostly, we are left to be put into the creatures’ world. It’s nice. It’s comforting. It’s one of my favourite cartoons for this time of year, and you can see its influences on Ghibli.