So the last of the war years Disney cartoons is “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”. It’s the final compilation feature (thankfully) before we get back to the full length narratives, and it’s not a bad way to go out. Like “Fun and Fancy Free”, this is only two long shorts, making the total run time about an hour. Luckily, the two shorts here are much better than those in the previous movies and are handled with a bit more polish.
The first is an adaptation of “The Wind and the Willows”, a British children’s story about a couple of anthropomorphic animals, Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant), Ratty (Claude Allister), Moley (Colin Campbell), and J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. (Eric Blore). Mr. Toad is an eccentric and prone to frivolous fits of spending and mayhem. In this case, his mania takes the form of a horse and buggy and later an automobile. His carefree ways start racking up the debt, putting his mansion, Toad Hall, in serious financial jeopardy. The plot centers around trying to reclaim this landmark of the community, since it was swindled out of Mr. Toad’s possession which even lead to his trial for grand theft auto and imprisonment.
What’s notable almost immediately about this short is how overtly British it is. The characters are all takes on English mannerisms, ranging from stuffy elitist to cockney wit. They also don’t shirk on the courtroom drama of the story, devoting a good deal of time regarding Mr. Toad’s finances and trial. At one point I realized how odd it was to see this subject matter (which is fairly farcical) being handled with such silly animal characters, but for me that’s part of the fun. It’s just an unusual little fable, and I’m not entirely sure how much children would even get out of it until the more action-centric finale.
The short is fully voice acted and features only sporadic narration from the great Basil Rathbone, and it’s a much more seamless and functional use than in previous shorts. He’s there to introduce the short and assist in various scene transitions. Nothing more.
The second short is “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, which I’m sure most people are familiar with in some form or another. The Disney version is told via Bing Crosby, who not only narrates but does all the voice acting and singing as well. It’s kind of like listening to the story being read on tape. Watching this one again, it’s interesting to see just how unlikeable and unsympathetic all the central characters are. Ichabod Crane, our lanky protagonist, is a goofy looking chap, but more than that, he’s something of a gluttonous disingenuous gold digger. His interest in Katrina van Tassel is not entirely romantic, as her wealth seems more of the attraction. His foppish demeanor and interest in what most considered women’s activates bring into question his sexuality as well, and I wonder if some point was trying to be made.
Brom Bones, the town bully and the prototype for the “Beauty and the Beast” villain Gaston, is shown to be a vain jerk who ridicules others, rules over any rivals, and generally gets everything he wants. He’s an all around dickweed, and he should give us all the more reason to root for Ichabod. Worse still, the object of their affections, the rich farmer’s daughter Katrina, is shown to obviously prefer Brom, yet she strings Ichabod along just to make him jealous. Yet maybe Ichabod deserves it. Hard to say.
The most memorable part of the story of course comes from Ichabod’s night ride where he encounters the Headless Horseman. This scene is pretty great, I have to admit. It’s a good blend of comedy and horror, showing Ichabod’s cartoony clumsiness against the sinister and impressive Headless Horseman. The character animation for the black specter seemed to jump up a notch or two, making him stand out strongly against the backdrop. He’s a wonderfully threatening figure and makes for a good finale.
“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” is one of the strongest entries in the compilation films from Disney. Both shorts offer amusing characters, decent animation, and fun music. It’s not nearly such a chore to sit through as some of the others, and is even worth checking out.