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These Stories Have Their Moments
on 21 June 2015
In the period immediately after World War II, the Disney studio was hurting financially. In an effort to turn things around, they released several features that combined two or more stories into one longer movie. Given the season, I decided now was a great time to rewatch The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad. It had been a few years since I last watched it, but my memories of the film pretty much held up, for better or worse.
The first of the two stories in this film is Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows. Or a small portion of the novel. (I haven’t read the book in probably 30 years, but I do remember it being much more involved than the story presented here.) Basil Rathbone is our narrator as we hear the tale of Mr. Toad (voiced by Eric Blore). He’s the heir and owner of the prestigious Toad Hall, but his constant desire for speed gets him into serious trouble. The focus of the film is his obsession with getting a car and the trouble that causes for his friends Ratty (Claude Allister), Mole (Colin Campbell), and Badger (Campbell Grant).
Honestly, this story is probably best known these days from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland (and the memories of the ride at Walt Disney World). Watching the movie again, I noticed several of the characters actually show up in the ride; I thought they were just random people in the ride with no real connection to the movie. Still, the ride goes off in a crazy direction that has nothing to do with any other version of the story.
But let’s get back to this film. There is a courtroom scene that, while essential to the plot, will probably bore the kids. I know I wasn’t that impressed with it, and I’m an adult. However, there are still some comedic action sequences that will definitely entertain kids, particularly the climactic battle against weasels for possession of Toad Hall. The animation is definitely on the dated side, but that was just the style of the time. It’s certainly good, and the voice work is fine as well.
Once this story is done, Bing Crosby takes over to tell us The Legend of Sleepy Hallow. We are introduced to Ichabod Crane, a single school teacher looking to find himself a rich woman to marry. A beautiful woman catches his eye, but unfortunately, there’s another man in town who wants to marry her, and this man will stop at nothing to get rid of his new rival. This all comes to a head at a Halloween party where the rival tells a spooky story about the Headless Horseman. But it’s just a story…right?
What’s interesting about this segment is that Bing Crosby does all the voices as well as sings a couple of songs that further things. Of course, really, the characters talk very little, it’s more Bing narrating things for us and occasionally changing his voice if a character is talking. Still, we are able to follow the story quite successfully, and the songs are fun if not very memorable outside the movie. They also definitely follow Bing’s style and 40’s style, which isn’t bad, but it also feels dated as you are watching.
While the final scene is the most famous, there is actually a bit of build up to it, introducing the characters and giving us the story of the Headless Horseman. In fact, I found parts of it quite funny in a slapstick way. It still might bore kids, but I have a feeling this will entertain them a bit more than the first segment does.
Even the final scene is a mix of chills and laughs. It’s a fine balance, and the two parts definitely battle it out the entire way through the scene as Ichabod tries to get away from the Headless Horseman. The result is a scene that will still scary the most sensitive kids, but that will entertain most kids with little chance of nightmares or other issues.
Still, I can’t fully recommend The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad to families. I think the dated elements and slower pace will turn off most modern audiences. However, DisNerds will still enjoy watching this piece of Disney history.