The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad (1949)

Somehow I’ve formed false memories of this movie.

Perhaps it’s because I’m so familiar with the stories that they’ve somehow become ingrained in my mind.  I was certain I had seen this as a child (especially the “Ichabod” portion) and was convinced that my failing memory was merely due to the fact that I hadn’t seen it in many years.  When I began watching, I figured it would jog my memory a bit and I’d have a clearer recollection of these segments.

As it turns out, the exact opposite happened.  As the movie progressed, I became more certain that I hadn’t seen this film before.  I don’t know where those vague memories came from, but it seems they’re entirely made up.

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad continues Disney’s line of “segment” films, merging two stories within a single film.  Mercifully, this film does not rely so heavily on the “framework story” to bookend each segment, allowing for a brief narration about interesting book characters to lead into each tale.  I found these far more pleasing that the overworked narrations of past films (such as Fun & Fancy Free),  though I admit my preference may have something to do with the fact that this narrative style reminds me of the one used in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (a personal favorite). Because of these no-frills introductions, the stories themselves are allowed to shine, drawing more emphasis than had they been competing with more developed introductory narrations.

The first story is taken from “The Wind & The Willows”, and tells the story of the intractable Mr. Toad, an impetuous gentleman who finds himself at the center of a court case.

Mr. Toad is a good-natured, albeit mischievous, fellow who chases after his whims with no thought to the consequences.  His friends look on in horror as he leaps from interest to interest, often with disastrous results.

In this particular story, he is charged with robbery after buying a used car off a group of weasels (who look suspiciously like the weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

The Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
 weasels (top) compared to those in the Mr. Toad cartoon (bottom)

Found guilty, Toad is sent to prison for his crime, as his friends look on in sorrow.

Of course, Toad doesn’t give up so easily.  He dresses up as a woman, escapes prison, and goes on a wild chase to prove his innocence.  He is ultimately acquitted of all charges, but as the story ends he is seen chasing off after his latest obsession.  He learned nothing from his escapades, and seems doomed to continue on in the same vein for all time.

The story was simple but enjoyable.  The jokes were cute, and I’m always happy to see literary characters brought to life on-screen.  The animators did justice to the characters, and it was an altogether entertaining short, albeit nothing groundbreaking.

The second segment of this film tells the tale of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s haunting story set in a quaint New England town.  Most of us grew up with this story in some respect, and are familiar with the overall plotline.  A young schoolteacher moves to Sleepy Hollow, falls for a young girl, is chased through the forest by a headless horseman, and is never heard from again. It’s a story I thought I knew pretty well.

Once again, my memory failed me.

I was so sure I had seen this segment before, and yet numerous parts of it surprised me.  I always thought Ichabod was portrayed as a sympathetic, timid character.  Somehow, I blocked out the imagery of Ichabod Crane daydreaming of marrying the young Katrina and taking over her father’s land and status:

Image result for disney ichabod

Was this desire supposed to make him relatable for viewers of the time?  Were we supposed to think he was a respectable, upstanding citizen for wanting to inherit this life of leisure?

I found the so-called “love story” in this segment rather faulty.  Ichabod falls for Katrina’s appearance and wealth, but we never see him speak to her.  They flirt, but it’s entirely superficial, and there’s nothing to suggest any sort of real connection between them.

What’s more, there’s nothing to make Ichabod stand out against his competitor for Katrina’s heart, Brom Bones.  Brom is perhaps a bit arrogant and cocky, but he is not shown as an out-right villain, and is really no worse than Ichabod.  This makes it difficult to view Ichabod as a sympathetic character.

The most memorable scene of this segment (and indeed the whole film) is the culminating chase through the forest, with Ichabod being pursued by the headless horseman.

This is such an iconic image, and one that countless people no doubt associate with the story (even though Irving’s tale was published nearly 90 years prior to this film’s release).  Although it would seem I haven’t seen this entire movie before, I have a very clear memory of this image. The chase scene through the forest is so classic that one can forgive just about any other faults with the movie.  There might be a few cracks in Disney’s portrayal of the story, but they most certainly got this scene right.

The two stories collected in this film are incredibly different in tone, yet they somehow manage to work together.  Though I wouldn’t consider this a classic Disney full-length animated feature, it’s a fair example of the company’s skill at storytelling.  True, the stories may not be their own, but they’re adapted for film very well.  While not perfect, these segments are entertaining, introducing these stories to new generations while doing justice to the tales which inspired them.

-Jess

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