The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 8 min.

Release Date: October 8th, 1949 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney Actors: Bing Crosby, Basil Rathbone, Eric Blore, Pat O’Malley, John McLeish, Colin Campbell, Claude Allister

 


 

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tarting with the classic effect of zooming in on the pages of a real book, the narrator (the unmistakable voice of Basil Rathbone) sets up the adventures of Mr. Toad (Eric Blore), excerpted from “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. Rat (Claude Allister) and Mole (Colin Campbell) are beckoned to appear at Toad Hall, where Thaddeus J. Toad himself resides. With the finances of the estate in dire need of a straightening out, the elderly Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant) attempts to take care of the books.

Quite hilariously, Mr. Toad is a practically insane cavorter, singing and prancing about without a care in the world. His stuffier comrades are tasked with reeling in his recklessness, which becomes nearly impossible when Toad spies a motorcar – full of endless new possibilities for excitement. It’s a typical Disney idea to analyze extravagance or fun (here, “speed mania”), condemn it to moderation for the safety of everyone, and then allow revelations for the offender (though this is brief, thanks to an incurable yearning for rash adventure).

Rat and Mole are very much a Sherlock Holmes and Watson combo, while Toad is a perpetually effervescent aristocrat. And Winky (Alec Harford) is a slick, wide-smiling crook (aided by a pack of rascally weasels). But with an ironic courtroom proceeding (involving the talking horse Cyril Proudbottom and his hysterical testimony), a tear-filled Christmastime imprisonment in a high tower, and a daring escape – culminating in an action-packed train ride and a hair-raising heist – it’s evident that humor and satire are at the forefront of any Disney parable, even if the character designs are clearly meant to appeal to young children.

As part of Disney’s package-film era (in which multiple short stories were strung together to make a feature-length production), a second animation follows: the stunning adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (a yarn many audiences might assume is too severe for a children’s adaptation). Set in Manhattan and narrated by Bing Crosby (who also partakes in a few singing, whistling, and humming segments), a sequestered glen called Sleepy Hollow becomes the next – and last – stop for an itinerant schoolmaster. Described as being quite an odd fellow, with lanky appendages, Dumbo-like ears, and an oversized nose, Ichabod Crane is soon welcomed into the community – except by Brom Bones, who opts to ridicule the quaint pedagogue instead.

When both men fall for the dainty and clearly wealthy Katrina (along with a long line of country bumpkin suitors), a heated rivalry ensues, coming to a boil at a lavish Halloween party at the van Tassel estate (boasting a laugh-out-loud funny dancing sequence with an overzealous, stumpy little partner). But when the hour grows late, the trading of ghost stories spooks Ichabod during his journey home. Sure enough, he comes face to face(less) with the Headless Horseman: one of Disney’s most frightening antagonists. This segment includes not only an undeniable flair for humor and creativity (such as physically moving a daydream cloud or presenting flowers to a lady from a vase in her own home), but also the nightmare-inducing imagery of a red-eyed, black horse and a flaming-skull-grasping, purple-caped, cackling, decapitated rider ferociously swinging a sword. In rare fashion, the story even ends on a dark note, though Crosby lightens the mood with a quick joke and a reprise of a tune. Still, this just might be the definitive screen version of the classic literature, even though it’s short, simple, and animated.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10