THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949)
Written by: Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows), Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Howard Brightman, Winston Hibler, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Joe Rinaldi & Ted Sears
Here’s one I’d never even heard of until my family got a Disney Calendar- one of those small page-flipper ones where you got a different image & comment each day, often of scenes or trivia from the films.
Peculiarly, the film is based around TWO separate mini-movies, rather than a series of animated shorts or a full-length feature (any other Disney film)- something Disney did a couple times. Each is about half an hour long, and thus is a more quickly-told story.
The first is something of an adaptation of the famous children’s novel, The Wind in the Willows, of which I was a bit surprised. You see, my entire knowledge of The Wind in the Willows came from a British stop-motion animation series that aired in Canada during the “bad hours” of TV, so I saw an awful lot of it. I was never really enamored with the show (in fact, it was more of a default “oh well, I gotta watch SOMETHING, and this is what YTV is showing” kind of thing). I remember the jerky animation style and the theme song, but almost nothing else. It’s real pretty, though.
However here’s a more limited retelling of bits and pieces of that novel, in particular, Mr. Toad’s story about losing the Deed to Toad Hall to some conniving Weasels and a lying barman, and his wacky scheme to get it back. Toad is of course the most memorable part of the whole thing, acting like a classic Upper Class Twit and being an utter slave to his whims. This of course drives his three friends Mole, Rat and Badger batty while he obsesses over whatever his latest fad is.
His destructiveness with horsecarts, motorcars and even an AIRPLANE are driving him to bankruptcy and his almost pure “Id” type personality provides most of action in the picture. As an aside, he was played by Eric Blore, who appeared as an English butler in half of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance films.
It’s pretty okay, but the running time and small stakes befit a TV episode more than a feature film.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a pretty famous story, but it’s done rather goofily here instead of the creepy adaptations that have come since.
And wouldn’t ya know, I have NO IDEA how this story really goes! I’ve never seen an adaptation of it before, and never read it in school or anything! So this is all new to me! I will say though that one of the selling points for this picture back in the day was the inclusion of Bing Crosby as the cartoon’s star. Yes, that BING CROSBY! One of the few stars of the era still known all over to this day.
He was the biggest singer in his time (appearing on radio to a degree even Katy Perry would be astounded by today- ten of the top 50 songs of 1931 were his), lived to do a duet with friggin’ David Bowie, and today is famous for beating his kids… which one of them insists is the result of one of their siblings writing a scathing “tell-all” after being manipulated by his agent in order to sell more books. One points out “You IDIOT! This is now one of the things that everybody thinks of when they think of our dad!”, though apparently three of the four admit he was pretty violent with them (though only Gary painted him as a frequently-vicious man).
The movie starts with creepy weirdo, Ichabod Crane, who is funny-looking and easy to make fun of, and he & half the town get interested in Boobage McTaTas, the chestiest Disney character this side of Jessica Rabbit!
Well, actually her name is Katrina and it’s kinda funny how she effortlessly manipulates the men of the town, turning them into willing slaves while trying to make the town’s own “Big Moose”, Brom Bones, jealous by hanging off of Ichabod.
Brom is heavily-implied to be The Headless Horseman, and just like the book, as he scares Ichabod with the tale of the Horsemen, before later that very night the Horseman appears with his madman’s cackle to chase Crane off. Interestingly, even though he plays the type of guy that’s usually the Town Bully, Bing Crosby narrates that there’s “no malice” in his actions, and that he’s just a boorish guy who likes to break stuff. In fact, the only character he’s antagonistic towards is Ichabod Crane, who as I’ll get to in a moment is a complete prick.
Yes, Ichabod is actually a huge jerk. He manipulates and lies to people in order to eat his fill of the village ladies’ feasts, and is seen eagerly awaiting the demise of Katrina’s rich father. Despite that, he actually stands a rather solid shot at marrying Katrina thanks to a bit of charisma and dancing ability compared to his lunkish nemesis, Brom Bones. He’s quite capable at avoiding hits (even accidentally), but is no warrior on his own, and pretty weak-willed. All together Ichabod being somewhat of a bastard prevents this movie from turning into a “harmless nerd picked on by brutish thug” picture.
Overall the movie is pretty funny. The whole thing’s in pantomime with Bing Crosby narrating, and it’s some GREAT slapstick and weird character moments. And The Headless Horseman makes the most of his two minutes of screen-time, chasing a terrified Ichabod and his horse all over the place. Fun stuff.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
Altogether, the most-remembered part of this whole thing is “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland (now gone from Disney World, in favor of the shitty Winnie The Pooh ride), the oldest ride left from the park’s opening, it’s still a fun little mini-adventure, and gives people a good nostalgic twinge. One of the few things that is pretty much untouchable in Disneyland (which is notorious for wiping out attractions and starting over).
An odd pairing of movies, in that both protagonists are basically awful people- an unrestrained psycho with manic obsessions, and a gold-digging greedy weirdo as heroes?
Odd stuff for Disney.
The animation is overall quite poor by Disney Feature standards, essentially matching their TV & comedy shorts. Overall, I only really cared for the latter short, but this isn’t really a hated feature. It WOULD, however, be completely overshadowed by its successor in 1950- Cinderella.