Original US release date: October 5, 1949
Production budget: Unavailable
Worldwide gross: Unavailable
Disney changed the world of entertainment upon its release of the first-ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Their momentum (both creatively and financially) continued from there, with Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and then Bambi in 1942. They were unstoppable. Or so it seemed.
Disney was stopped. They were stopped by World War II. Many of their animators were drafted into the war, which made producing additional feature-length animated films exceedingly difficult. To top it off, Disney was also hired by the government to produce war-related propaganda films, further stretching their resources. As a result, the Mouse House was forced to cease production on feature-length animated movies and decided instead to release a series of “package films” that were comprised of shorter animated stories that, combined, reached something approximating feature-length.
Before the war interfered with Disney’s daily operations, a feature-length adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows had already begun production. When Disney lost many of their animators, production ceased. Years later, it was determined that it would be best to include it in a package film along with an adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This eventually led to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the final package film before Disney resumed business as usual.
The Wind in the Willows kicks the film off and it’s a harmless enough affair. Narrated by the great Basil Rathbone, Thaddeus Toad is an eccentric and wealthy toad obsessed with buying a “motor car” and in his haste, ends up purchasing a stolen vehicle which leads to his arrest. His friends (a group of other assorted anthropomorphic animals) must then band together to clear Toad’s name in a court of law.
There is a healthy number of characters here and not much time to spend with them, but it’s pretty fun while it lasts. Toad, himself, is appropriately bonkers, establishing an interesting contrast when compared to his prim and proper compatriots. He’s the quintessential crazy millionaire who constantly has to explain and apologize for his actions.
Meanwhile, his friends continue to stand by his side and, as he never really does any harm, they never fail to accept him fully for who he is. This idea is the ultimate takeaway from this half of the film and it’s pretty difficult to miss. Nobody is perfect so don’t abandon your friends when they screw up. It’s a nice little message for a nice little story.
The second half of the film, Disney’s adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is by far the better and more-fondly-remembered segment of the two. The story is entirely narrated and sung by the legendary Bing Crosby and tells the tale of the new teacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane. Ichabod is a ladies’ man (and teachers get all the ladies, believe me) who falls for the lovely Katrina (a dead-ringer for Cinderella in the face and Jessica Rabbit in the body). Yet, Ichabod has competition for Katrina in the form of super-stud Brom Bones (think the progenitor of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast) and a love triangle forms, culminating in an intense series of events on Halloween night.
This adaptation has retained its popularity throughout the decades and is pretty much regarded as a classic. It’s easy to see why, with great animation and character designs, Bing Crosby’s smooth sounds, and a celebrated closing sequence that plays out perfectly with a shocking consequence for a Disney animated story. Those last ten minutes have kept this film in the public consciousness since 1949 and, while it all hinges on a pretty strong coincidence, it’s still a beautifully crafted piece of work that lives up to its reputation.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad isn’t Disney’s most well-known feature, but it’s the best one that came out of the package film era. Though most viewers will just want to get to the Sleepy Hollow segment, the Wind in the Willows adaptation has its charms, as well, and exists perfectly fine on its own merits. The film as a whole may also serve as a good testing ground for what a child might think about horror stories as Sleepy Hollow of course has those elements but in a toned down form, albeit with consequences that might necessitate some explanations for children who are especially young.
Nonetheless, while it isn’t the first animated feature that one should go out of their way to see, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a unique bit of Disney history that has managed to remain relevant after nearly sixty years. It’s definitely worth a glance and the final ten minutes are the stuff of legend.
Follow us on Facebook!