I say. It must be near All Hallow's Eve if we be watching...

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 6.5

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 8

Characters/Characterization/Voice-Acting: 8.5

Art Direction/Design: 7

Themes/Archetypes/ Artistic Interpretation: 6.5

Mr. Toad:

From RM:

Tally-ho! The Best of the package films by far starts of with Basil (I was Sherlock Holmes) Rathbone narrating the tale of that well known amphibian libertine J. Thaddeus Toad, of the Pembrokeshire Toads. His tragic story is one of addiction, to gypsy carts, talking horse companions named Cyril, and, worst of all, motor cars. His insatiable urge and disregard has all but bankrupted him, and his inability to not not have a car leads him to, in a fit of poor judgment, trade his ancestral manse, Toad Hall, for a motor car which had been stolen by a pack of weasels. Toad takes the fall, despite the brave efforts of his friends MacBadger, Ratty and Moley. For it was Mr. Winkie, the proprietor of the tavern where this shady deal had gone down, who lied and said that Toad tried to sell him the motor car, knowing it was stolen. Well, Toad gets locked up, busts out, recovers the Deed from Winkie and the Weasels, and somehow that makes all his legal troubles go away. Until he becomes addicted to airplanes. That marvelous bastard.

While this film may have some plot holes (see above, deed = exoneration?), it cannot be accused of not being enthusiastic, bright cheerful, upbeat, and full of colorful characters, it runs head on through any opinions you or I might have of the dreary folderol one expects of a package film. The horse Cyril and diabetically sweet Moley are real highlights, as is the particularly vacuous character design of Mr. Winkey.

The credit must be given here to the Disney team, for both this and the subsequent piece, Ichabod Crane, for someone to have stood up and said: "We can't make this 80 minutes. Let's make it well in 35." This is a particular boon in that the source material they have is...you'll love this... actual fiction! Not three page parables! So they don't NEED a chipmunk that can soft-shoe or a scatting dolphin, they can just rely on source material. How refreshing. The music in this is bright but forgettable, which is better than the rancid back of your mouth taste that most of the package films numbers leave you with.

From Wiry:

I actually don't have much to say about Mr. Toad other than it's one wild ride.


But, okay. So, irksome plot point noted above aside, this is one of the unique situations in Disney in which there's MORE source material than one finds in the film itself. They didn't need to fill out the bare bones with animal subplots, they just needed to select what they wanted from the many tales already hangin' out in The Wind and the Willows (which, incidentally, always sounded so much more dramatic to me than one would believe with regards to a tale of frogs and badgers). Toad is indeed, as posited by the narrator, a superb character. With his manias. Tee hee. I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around this world, though, with animals who live as humans do but in human-sized spaces occasionally frequented by homo sapiens. It's sorta weird. Kinda like a car thief being locked in the Tower of London. Just sayin'. But we've got a good story of friendship going on here, which is a nice break from the Disney romantic tradition. What-ho, I say.


From Wiry:

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is the great American ghost story. No, that's not really hyperbole. For real. I'm not really big on a lot of the American folklore - Paul Bunyan, that other guy, and Johnny "Biodiversity Terrorist" Appleseed. But I'd say the tale is quite comparable to A Christmas Carol in that it's a comparatively contemporary (1820 feels like yesterday) work of fiction that has entered the cultural mind as legend.

Let's do some refreshing. The story begins with the arrival of the gangly, scarecrow-esque schoolmaster, the singular Ichabod Crane. In a fashion that smacks a bit of the later Beauty and the Beast, the town marvels at this oddball intellectual. And then there's the Gaston of this piece, Brom Bones, the town rowdy who wants less to marry Ichabod than dent his face. Ichabod soon becomes the town lothario, though, charming the young women and the mothers of his students into numerous social engagements. But his agenda shifts from random acts of feasting to sex and money once he meets the charmingly Dutch Katrina Van Tassel. With a bit of dumb luck and several years of intensive yoga training, he manages to thwart Brom Bones's efforts to court Katrina for himself. Katrina delights in playing the gents against each other, Brom Bones having been up till now monopolizing her time (and really, isn't it more fun to have two gents fighting for your affection?). Katrina then invites both to her father's Halloween party, at which it seems Ichabod nearly seals the deal. Brom, however, noticing Ichabod's superstitious nature (salt over shoulder), recounts the legend of the Headless Horseman. While riding home from the party that night, the spooked Ichabod has various run-ins with nature rendered scary by his overactive imagination. Then, of course, the Headless Horseman appears and begins a grand chase toward the bridge. Just as Ichabod reaches the other side, he gets a flaming pumpkin to the face. And now we're in ambiguous epilogue. Katrina and Brom marry, but what became of Ichabod? Was the Horseman merely Brom in disguise? Is Ichabod dead, or did he flee Sleepy Hollow with his tail between his legs?

You have to admire the writing and character work in this short - it's true the source material has some excellent and strong characters and agendas, but they're all distilled here in a way that maintains a consistency and clarity rarely found in even the full-length features. We've got an old-fashioned love triangle in which, oddly enough, the gangly loser seems to be ahead by a nose (ha!). And we've got a coquettish female love interest who is more than some dumb blonde - I mean, she's no Ariel or Belle, but she's wise on playing her beaus off one another. It's also refreshing how far they go to make Ichabod unlikeable - in addition to bordering on the grotesque (yes, he's supposed to be gangly and geeky, but he looks like an apple with a carrot shoved in it atop a twig), his affection for Katrina is explicitly tied to her ... tracts of land. While Ichabod introduces culture to the town, he also poaches (mostly food) here and there, feeding the same ego that makes him feel entitled to Katrina and her estate.

So, in a sense, the Horseman-as-prank is well deserved. The ending, of course, leaves it open as to Crane's ultimate fate. In other versions of the tale, one might play up the supernatural elements earlier on or make more mention of the legend. This variation, though, is really a romantic comedy for 90% of the time. So, I'm inclined to lean toward Brom as the culprit in this version, in spite of the notably otherworldly design of the Horseman. It fits the story being told up to that point, and I don't really see the Horseman coming in as some spirit of the town exploited by the big city boy. It's really just a competition that ends once Brom resolves to take things two steps too far. But, he wins. So let that be a lesson to you intrepid riders in the night.

From RM:

How terrific is this? Seriously. In this version of "Sleepy Hollow" (I'll get to the, ugh, other one in a moment) the headless horseman is a TACTIC, not Christopher Walken acting nuttier-than-all-git-out. This Disney films has TACTICS, and OBSTACLES, and other things that you are told (or at least I was) make for dramatic tension and conflict! Praise Jesus! And the characters make sense! And are like how they are in the book! And there's no witches or Police Constables or Christina Ricci or.....

Let me back up. And say that I do enjoy Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. My problem with it mostly is that this version, which has been burned into my skull, and is actually close to the source material, is much better and more logical than Tim's version which takes his legendary ability to deviate from source material to new highs and lows, in some ways succeeding, in some, not so much.

How nice is it to have two shorts that feature utterly unlikable protagonists? Maybe this is the weirdo in me talking, but we have an addict and a sexually and fiscally charged rake and pie-thief as our two heroes. They're both effete, silly, compulsive and at times, dangerous fools as characters, and yet we root for them as we laugh at them. It's wonderful to see these kind of layered characters, which seems to thrive more coming from fiction than from fable. Yes, it leaves less room for Disney interpretation, but that's not always a bad thing. In fact, most often it's a good thing.

Also, Brom Bones, the arguable third protagonist, is basically Gaston's American cousin. It's bizarre. Take a look sometime. He's got biceps to spare, not a bit of him is scraggly or scrawny, and all the womenfolk take a right shine to him.

This was the last of the "package films" that dominated the 1940s, and it makes an effective bridge. Leaving behind much of the glorified music video shorts, these are really two "short films" with a narrative and music that clearly bridge to Disney's next film, Cinderella, which brings back Disney to the single narrative form. I don't believe that it is a coincidence that this last one was the best. If they had so desired, I feel the package film as a form could have been perfected had they gone down this road further, but perhaps it is for the best that they did not.

Final Grade: B

Current Rankings:

1.) The Lion King
2.) Sleeping Beauty
3.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
4.) Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs
5.) Peter Pan
6.) Cinderella
7.) The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad
8.) Lady and The Tramp
9.) The Great Mouse Detective
10.) Pinocchio
11.) The Jungle Book
12.) The Black Cauldron
13.) Mulan
14.) The Three Caballeros
15.) Treasure Planet
16.) Saludos Amigos
17.) Fun and Fancy Free

***Revised, 10/26/08***: Check out our new link, under groundwork, called Spreadsheet! It's a direct download link for an excel file that itemizes all the info we've processed so far! Letter grades, how each generation of films average out score wise, highest to lowest rankings for each category, it's the most efficient way to waste your time with us!


Newer Post Older Post Home