The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Starring: Bing Crosby, Eric Blore, Basil Rathbone, Pat O'Malley,
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, James Algar
Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
Synopsis: Two of the greatest literary characters of all time, Ichabod Crane and Mr. Toad, are the stars in this Disney animated classic. Mr. Toad, from The Wind in the Willows, is an eccentric aristocrat whose good name gets tarnished when he is accused of stealing a motor car. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows Ichabod Crane and he arrives in Sleepy Hollow, enjoys good food, falls in love and ultimately faces the Headless Horseman.
Review: The World War II years were the roughest the Disney studio had ever seen. Not only did their ambitious films like Fantasia and Bambi fail at the box office, the military commissioned the studios to work on training films and morale boosting propaganda, limiting the funds the studio would receive as well the potential for new animated films. In order to combat this, the studio created what fans like to call “the package film”, a full length movie composed of different shorts, each telling their own stories. Often these would place emphasis on music and visuals rather than strong narratives. Due to this the films did well enough to keep the studio afloat, but aren't considered to be the best among Disney's line of animated classics. I find this to be a shame. Regardless of their limited narrative these films are memorable and captivating in their execution, and if you look at them as rehearsals to better films like Cinderella, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, you gain a whole new appreciation for them. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is one of these movies.
The film tells two stories, “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. What you should know is that the original stories are rich in linguistics, character development and detailed narratives filled with political themes, human drama and a silly sense of reality in Wind in the Willow's case. This movie is not a faithful adaption of the books. They are condensed re-tellings that focus on a handful of events rather than the whole plot. If you come to the movie expecting a loyal adaptation of these books you will be disappointed.
That being said, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad succeeds at capturing the essence of the stories while creating over the top interpretations of its famous scenes and characters. “The Wind in the Willows” is known for its whimsical look at English life through the eyes of animals, and by this time Disney had mastered this art of whimsy. The main characters are animated and voiced perfectly with a manic charm that turns them into comedic gold. Mr. Toad, voiced by Eric Blore, is phenomenal, being charmingly mad from the minute he appears on screen until the very end. He's the kind of person you would love to hang out with... until he gets into a trouble that is. This is balanced by Angus McBadger, Ratty and Mole who serve as the emotional anchor to all of Mr. Toad's endeavors. Cyril Proudbottom is a great supporting character, while Weasly is the type of antagonist you love to hate. He is slimy throughout the whole film, with his defeat being very satisfying.
The film achieves enough success that it has become a favorite many Disney purists, even receiving a ride at the Disney theme parks, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The attraction would become popular despite the obscurity of the film. As of now, the ride only stands at Disneyland in California. It's unfortunate that Disney never thought of adapting the rest of the book in the same style and manner as the short film version. It would have been one of the most memorable takes on the classic English story yet.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” isn't really a happy and bright story. It is quite dark and horrific, making you wonder why Disney chose the story to adapt into an animated film. The truth is that it's actually a very different take on the classic Headless Horseman story, one that is very colorful, highly humorous and filled with satire... until the last moments of the film. Simply put, the last scene of the movie with the Headless Horseman is hailed as one of the most frightening in Disney history. This is achieved thanks to great staging and a creepy atmosphere that turns it into a delight to watch on Halloween.
But what about the other half of the story? Think of it as being the lollipop before you are given the bad news. As previously stated, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is told as a colorful folklore, with catchy music by Bing Crosby and highly caricatured characters. Ichabod Crane is a walking stick that loves to eat and is interested in women just for their money and cooking skills. Katrina is a beautiful gal that knows how to use her charms for her advantage, and is the hard headed town hero that wants all competition taken care of. Seriously, these characters may be some of the most dysfunctional ever put on an animated Disney film. And you know what? That's why the story works. It's actually kind of fun seeing these flawed people trying to achieve their goals, creating some very funny scenes in the process.
On the technical side of things, both segments in the film have their own unique art style that served as inspiration for the films that followed it (like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland). Wind in the Willows is very bright, with captivating character design for the animals as well as some of the other protagonists. The backgrounds are very detailed and give the film a lot of warmth. But easily the best is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This is thanks to stunning backgrounds by Mary Blair, one of Disney's most accomplished artists. Rather than playing with the dark themes of the book, she creates a colorful take on classic, rural America, and will use dark colors when the scene demands it. The character design is both realistic and exaggerated, a style that would be seen in the films that followed it. Overall, it might not be the shining example of what Disney animation can be, but it is a visually stunning film due to its aesthetics.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad may not be the greatest adaption of classic literature ever presented on film, but it deserves far more recognition than it gets. You get two see many facets of Disney animation at work here. Fun characters, catchy music, smooth animation and even lots of horror, the film is a classic that no film or Disney fan should miss.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5