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“If you were asked to choose the most fabulous character in English literature, who would it be?”
– Narrator #1
Well, for Halloween I reviewed a movie that involves Halloween and Christmas, and for Christmas I reviewed an Easter film, so it’s only fitting that for Easter I look at a film that features stories taking place at both Christmas AND Halloween, right?
…This blog is turning out weirder than I originally planned it.
“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” came at the end of the 1940’s, a turbulent time for Disney, mainly due to World War Two. Most of Walt’s animators were drafted to fight, the US Army was using the place to store equipment and they all but strongarmed whomever was left to hold a pencil into creating propaganda and training films to bolster the USA into giving the Germans and that old fickelgruber Adolph what-for! (Sorry, I tend to slip into an old-timey newsreel announcer voice when talking about the 40’s).
As such, there were many ideas for potential animated films tossed around but never fully developed due to budget and time constraints. Most of them were made into individual shorts that were packaged together to form a film, sometimes with a narrative of sorts to tie them together. There’s a good chance you’ve probably seen at least one of these shorts on tv or on video. Remember “Peter and the Wolf”? That’s from a version of Fantasia featuring mostly contemporary tunes called “Make Mine Music”. How about “Pecos Bill”? It’s the finale of a pseudo-sequel to the previous film titled “Melody Time”. “Mickey and the Beanstalk”? The second half of the double feature known as “Fun and Fancy Free”. The movie I’m looking at today is the very last of these aptly titled “package films” before Disney returned to the full-length fairy tale formula the following year with “Cinderella”.
Animated adaptations of both Kenneth Grahaeme’s “The Wind in the Willows” and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” were planned by Disney as far back as the 30’s, but what made them decide to bring the two together I haven’t been able to figure out. It’s an unusual choice, but somehow it works. They’re both fine shorts on their own, but together they make a decent film that balances lighthearted fun with darker tones. Much, MUCH darker tones. Oh yes, this is one of those Disney films that’s earned its reputation for scaring generations of children, myself included.
Seeing how this is the 1940’s we get our opening credits with a peppy if not particularly interesting chorus singing over it. They’re simply stating the title of the movie over and over to the tune of a song we’ll hear much later in the film. Moving on.
The movie opens in a library where I assume all the books that magically open by themselves in the opening of every classic Disney movie are kept, because both stories featured here begin and end with their respective books coming out of the shelves and doing just that while the narrators postulate on them. Either that or this is part of the Haunted Mansion’s library.
Now you may have noticed before that I said narrators. That’s not a typo, there are in fact more than one narrators in this movie, and oddly enough they don’t clash with each other at some point like you’d expect. They do provide the tenuous connection between the two stories, however, that being who’s the most fascinating literary character, Ichabod or Mr. Toad? Our first narrator, none other than Sherlock Holmes himself –
Basil Rathbone, one of the most classy and dignified actors of his time, submits to us his candidate, a toad – J. Thaddeus Toad of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” to be precise – and he begins to tell us of his exploits.
Now here’s where I have to confess something. I normally make it a point to read the original stories that certain Disney films were based on and compare the two, just for fun if anything.
As of this review, I have never actually read “The Wind in the Willows”.
…Or rather I DID try to read it, but much like The Hobbit I was bored senseless.
To be fair, I was a small kid when I discovered that book at my library, but at least with The Hobbit I made to where Bilbo meets Gollum before giving up. With Wind in the Willows I couldn’t even get past the first chapter! From what I’ve gathered Toad isn’t even the central character of the story; it’s about Mole leaving his home for the first time and meeting him and Rat and Badger and a bunch of random stuff happening to him. The part with Toad and his motor mania getting the better of him, the part that everybody remembers regardless of whether or not they’ve picked up the book? That doesn’t happen until long past the halfway point, and it isn’t the main focus of the story. And unfortunately due to my limited knowledge, you’ll have to make do without a thoroughly detailed comparison of the book and the short for this review.
Well don’t everybody celebrate all at once!
Toad (Eric Blore), the richest animal living in the countryside, is a slave to fads and always ready for an adventure regardless of the cost. His wanton ways attract many fair-weather friends, but the three closest to him are the frugal Angus McBadger –
– the kind and gentle Mole –
– and a water rat simply called Rat, which always confused me because he looks nothing like a rat.
In the middle of afternoon tea, Rat receives a letter from a postman – a human postman. A human postman that’s drawn to the real-life scale of an actual human. This is another thing I find strange about The Wind in the Willows; in nearly all the adaptations, the animals act and wear clothes like humans but retain their natural size and co-habit the world with human beings and nobody questions it. Am I the only one who found this weird?
Then again, this does take place in England, the one country where nobody seems to give a damn about unusual happenings, no matter how fantastical. Polite marmalade-eating bear taking up residence with a family of four? How quaint. Werewolves running around the park? It’s only some hooligans causing trouble. Young virgins losing blood after the eccentric foreign count moves in next door? Nothing odd going on here. Flying cars and kids disappearing into train platforms carrying owls and magic wands? Just your average Monday. I’m surprised that none of these films have had weather forecasts that go like this –