The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Critic Consensus: This Disney two-fer may not be the most reverent literary adaptation, but it's remarkably crafted and emotionally resonant.
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|Genre:||Animation, Kids & Family, Classics, Science Fiction & Fantasy|
|Directed By:||James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, James Algar & Clyde Geronimi|
|Written By:||Homer Brightman & Winston Hibler, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Erdman Penner, Ted Sears|
|In Theaters:||Jan 1, 1949 Wide|
|On DVD:||Oct 3, 2000|
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as Mr. Toad
as Cyril Proudbottom
as Cyril Proudbottom
as Angus MacBadger
as Second weasel
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Critic Reviews for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
An uneven doubleheader by Walt Disney, who has combined into one film two dissimilar literary classics.
Mr. Disney, abetted by his staff, such perfect narrators as Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone, and a pair of durable literary works, has fashioned a conclave of cartoon creatures, which... have the winsome qualities and charm of Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, et al.
The Wind in the Willows adaptation has a gag-a-shot scenario, breakneck pace and plays like an extended Donald Duck short.
"The Adventures of Ichabod Crane" still stands as one of the best versions of Irving's famous tale.
Audience Reviews for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
This last animated package film before Disney finally got back on track after WWII offers two satisfying stories that may pale in comparison for instance with Fun & Fancy Free, released a couple of years before and which also had only two nice-yet-not-unforgettable tales.
During WWII, the Disney Company devoted much of its resources to producing propaganda for the US government. Whatever projects Disney had in the pipeline before the outbreak of war were either reduced down to package films like Saludos Amigos or shelved entirely. This meant that in 1945 Disney was left with a huge bunch of half-finished, partially-developed stories, and would spend the next few years trying to salvage and untangle them into something he could sell.
Disney had been working on an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows right up to 1941, with the film being half-complete by the time of Pearl Harbour. Shortly after the war, Disney green-lit an adaptation of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, only to find that the content of the short story would not be sufficient for a feature film. The solution was to cut the two together and bookend the stories with narration from Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone. The result is an obvious but somewhat interesting compromise, which stretches Disney's reputation for artistic license to its limit.
When I reviewed Peter Pan some time ago, I argued that the best way to enjoy the film was to regard it as "the Disney version" of the classic story, and that it was at least somewhat acceptable as an adaptation if it was entertaining in its own right. Disney has always looked to put its own stamp on any adaptation, sacrificing a perfect recreation of the source material in favour of its own brand of magic. Whether or not you like 'the Disney version' depends not just on the film but on your view of the company and its conventions - in this case, its tendency to misinterpret European fiction to achieve appeal with American audiences.
The Wind in the Willows has become such an iconic and entrenched part of English literature that a small majority of us may know the entire plot without having actually read the story. But even if all you care about is the loosest outline, you'll raise your eyebrows at precisely how far 'the Disney version' departs from Kenneth Grahame's original vision. Of course, not every adaptation has to follow the story word for word, or include the subtext about the destruction of the English way of life. But the version we have before us here is so different that it may as well not bear the same name.
We can tolerate some of Disney's character changes - for instance, having Toad be called J. Thaddeus Toad to make him sound more posh, and having Badger as a foul-tempered Scot. These kinds of changes are a product of their era, with both this and the Basil Rathbone versions of Sherlock Holmes reflecting a need for stronger ties between Britain and the US. We can also just about forgive the compression of the motor car plot, or the lack of any barge woman, on the grounds that the original film was never finished and much of the rough sketches may have been lost.
What isn't so easy to forgive is the inclusion of Mr Winky, who in this version cons Toad out of Toad Hall and lands him in jail. In the original story, the human characters are largely incidental - they help to move the plot along but do not shape the story around their actions. Grahame does not feel the need to flesh out the magistrate, the gaoler's daughter or the barge woman, because they are all ultimately means to the animal characters' ends. This version gets the wrong end of the stick, giving us a human villain with weasel minions, undermining the idea of there being an animal world with the same structure and parallels as the human world.
If you choose to stick around in the face of these departures, the Wind in the Willows segment is still enjoyable for its music-based set-pieces. The final battle at Toad Hall is quite well-done, with paper aeroplanes, weaponry flying all over the place and plenty of decent chasing to keep us entertained. And while Eric Blore's Toad is nothing like as entertaining as Rik Mayall's interpretation, he still has his manic moments, whether it's bouncing down the steps on his ball-and-chain, or shouting "I'll pop 'im off!" from a boat while brandishing a shotgun.
It's quite ironic that Disney chose to group these two short films together, since from a narrative point of view they are complete opposites. While The Wind in the Willows is a marked departure from the source material, Disney's treatment of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is surprisingly faithful. The film keeps all the aspects of the story which the Tim Burton version disposed of, keeping Ichabod Crane as a schoolmaster and reinstating Brom Bones as the main antagonist.
What's equally surprising is the aesthetic shift from one segment to the other. While the Wind in the Willows portion was filled with dark, foggy greys and piercing yellows, this is a lot brighter and glossier from the start. The landscape of 18th-century New England is evoked far more convincingly than the English countryside, and the colour scheme foreshadows Disney's efforts in the 1950s, with the bright reds, blues and greens of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
While its colour scheme is in keeping with 1950s Disney, the narrative structure is closer to that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We have a lot of time with the central character as he arrives in Sleepy Hollow, sets up home and gets to work. There is a lengthy dance number involving fairly complex choreography, though there's nothing as magical or funny as Dopey's drum solo. And there are a number of slightly spooky moments, from Brom Bones' ghost story to the Headless Horseman (more on him in a moment).
But although there are clear nods to Snow White in Ichabod, it falls short of Disney's masterpiece in terms of its pacing and characterisation. Snow White may be bland in comparison to later Disney princesses, but she was always a likeable character, and the film took its time to establish her dreams and desires. Ichabod, by contrast, is not that likeable: while Burton made him appealing, even in a goofy way, here he is lecherous and creepy. We spend far too much time on him when what we want is his conflict with Brom Bones and his encounter with the ghost.
This curious detachment from the central character is reflected in the animation itself. While the colour schemes and musical numbers are distinctly Disney, the animation style is more akin to that of Tex Avery or Warner Brothers. Ichabod as a protagonist is unusually angular, Brom Bones looks like a thinner version of Bluto from Popeye, and Katrina's... assets are played far more obviously for comic effect. Even the animals are more angular and satirical, with harsher lines and more ragged movement than the Disney norm.
The scene from this film which everyone holds in high regard is Ichabod's encounter with the Headless Horseman. It is by far and away the best scene in either of the films, treading the same line between scar and funny as The Evil Dead years later. The shot of Ichabod looking down the Horseman's neck and being greeted by that evil laugh is both funny and pretty scary, and the whole scene is lit and coloured very well. It's certainly enough to distract from the actual ending, which while faithful to the source material feels abrupt and unsatisfying.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad is a curiously disjointed effort, succeeding as entertainment largely at the expense of its source materials. The Wind in the Willows segment departs so markedly that it would be offensive if it didn't succeed as passable entertainment, while the Sleepy Hollow section is faithful to the source but suffers from poor pacing and characterisation. Ultimately it's passingly entertaining, but also total tosh, lacking both the ambition and the coherency of earlier Disney.
As my old worn out vhs copy will tell you, I've been a long time fan of this glorious double feature. It combines two great stories and presents them in a near perfect form. Mr. Toad's segment is much like it's character; all kinds of crazy. At heart, it's just the adventures of a jolly little British Toad. The Sleepy Hollow segment is definitely something beautiful and one of the greatest spooky stories that's ever been properly adapted on an animated platform. Sure it has light-hearted moments, but I remember that it used to have some genuinely scary parts for kids. In truth, there's absolutely no reason these two stories should be presented together, but it sort've just works.
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