My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949)
The Plot: Two animated segments combined into one feature-length film, narrated (respectively) by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby. In the first, a fun-loving, adventure-seeking toad gets into trouble when he tries to get his hands on a motor car. In the second, a lanky, prim-and-proper schoolteacher finds himself at the mercy of the Headless Horseman.
The Segments: "The Wind In The Willows" (based on the book by Kenneth Grahame), "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" (based on the short story by Washington Irving)
A Little History: The sixth (and final) "package" film released by the Disney studio in the 1940s. Walt Disney originally planned to adapt Grahame's The Wind In The Willows as a feature length film, but the onset of World War II sapped him of the resources to do so; to save on money and time, he condensed the story and combined it with "Sleepy Hollow" instead. The Hays Code forced Disney to alter "Wind In The Willows" so that the title character is framed for stealing the car, as opposed to stealing it outright (one rule of the Code stated that "No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin"). Disney's version of "Sleepy Hollow" follows the original story rather closely, with lines taken directly from the text. Both segments were later given separate theatrical releases: "Sleepy Hollow" in 1958, and "Willows" (re-titled The Madcap Adventures of Mr. Toad) in 1978. The film was not shown again in its entirety until 1992, when Walt Disney Home Video released The Adventures of Ichabod And Mr. Toad on laserdisc.
How It Holds Up Today: I take it back. I actually prefer this over all other Disney "package" films, if only because "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" has been a Halloween staple ever since I was a kid. (Am I the only one who thought "Sleepy Hollow" and "Wind In The Willows" existed as separate films?) Watching "Sleepy Hollow" today, I'm surprised at how much time is spent setting up its central Ichabod/Brom Bones rivalry and so little on the Headless Horseman himself. Ichabod, more than ever, comes off as a greedy, pompous opportunist, while Brom's big revenge plot simply boils down to... telling a spooky ghost story. (Both characters end up getting exactly what they deserve.) Also, is it me, or is this segment practically swimming in sexual undertones apparent to us only as adults? Ichabod isn't particularly good looking - he's gangly, priggish and distracted, yet the women seem to adore him. Why? Then you take a look at his big feet, big hands, big nose, big ears... it's like the ladies instinctively know this schoolteacher's packin' serious heat. (Watch, too, when Ichabod encounters Katrina Van Tassel for the first time – I'm not kidding you, his ponytail sticks straight up!) The animation is splendidly atmospheric, and "Willows" matches it for sheer free-spirited wit, even in its truncated form. Rathbone's tongue-in- cheek narration is typical British-dry, and Mr. J. Thaddeus Toad makes a wonderfully expressive protagonist, his lidless eyes staring off in wide- eyed amazement, as if always in a trance. He's one character I wouldn't mind seeing in a feature film franchise all his own.
And with that, our "package film" retrospective comes to a close (that is, until 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh. Next up, we return to stand-alone feature-length films – and the start of a new decade – with Cinderella in 1950. Still need to catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, and Melody Time.