Monday, June 28, 2010

"We'll go for a jolly ride!"

Film: "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad"

Release Date: 5 October 1949

Director: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, James Alger

One of the hallmark of great Disney Animation has always been to take classic literary fiction or fable characters and "Disney-ise" them. "Snow White," "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi" all did this is the earliest days of Disney, as well as "Bongo" and "Mickey and the Beanstalk," the two shorts that make up "Fun and Fancy Free." "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" was a return to this, taking on two of the greatest and most popular literary characters in fiction, J. Thaddeus Toad from the British story "The Wind and the Willows," and Ichabod Crane from the old American story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Walt would cast and use the voice talents of J. Pat O'Malley (in his first of many Disney roles), Basil Rathbone (of "Sherlock Holmes" fame, and the inspiration for the name of the main character from 1986's "The Great Mouse Detective), and Bing Crosby. Many of Walt's famed "Nine Old Men" would be animation directors for this film, and film and animation fans that look closely will note that the style of animation in the segment in the "Mr. Toad" part of the film where Mr. Toad and friends are being chased by Mr. Winky and the weasels, was re-used in "The Jungle Book." This is becuase on "Mr. Toad," Wolfgang Reitherman worked on this part of the film and later was the director for "The Jungle Book," which he directed, and loved re-using his work when the chance would come. The film earned a Golden Globe in 1950 for best use of color.

The film's two parts would later be re-released as long shorts independently with "Sleepy Hollow" being re-released as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in 1958 and "Mr. Toad" being re-released as "
The Madcap Adventures of Mr. Toad" in 1978. The Headless Horseman scenes would alter be used in many different Disney Halloween themed specials. Many of the characters from "Mr. Toad" would be re-used in 1983's "Mickey's Christmas Carrol," as well as cameos in 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and on tv in 2000's "House of Mouse."

My Reaction: This has always been my favorite of the "package films." Both stories feature characters that are full of life, with stories that are filled with lots of action and a few touching moments. You really get a feeling that Mr. Toad's friends care about him. Then on the excitement side of things, that bit at the end where the headless horseman lobs his pumpkin head right at the screen! I remember getting goose bums as a kid when that was on. But as an adult, I take away from "Mr. Toad" the values of responsibility and friendship/ loyalty, and the lesson from "Sleepy Hollow" that one should never be too proud a mighty of one's self. That you get reckless when you start down that path. Also, don't go walking through woods where headless horsemen ride.

I think either story could easily have been stretched out and stand on it's own as a single feature-film. And it is really too bad that that didn't happen. That said, I do think that "Mr. Toad" was the stronger story told here in this film. Walt however, was still recovering monetary losses from World War II at that point and wasn't ready just yet to get back to single stories for his film. Thankfully, his next film, 'Cinderella," would be that proper return that his audience was waiting for.

My Wife's Reaction: She really enjoyed it as a kid, but as an adult, it was annoying to her.

My Final Grade: (B+) To me, this has always been and always will be the best of the "package film" era. I'm actually sad that neither story ended up it's own, full-length feature, as either could hold it's own well enough.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

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