Sunday, October 21, 2012

Disney Canon: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

I'm sorry for the late entry, I have been very busy and had to take last week off the canon. I apologize, but now I'm back for the last entry in the 'package film' part of the Disney legacy. This one is not all that different from 'Fun and Fancy Free' in that it features two segments that are more or less the same length. Initially titled 'Two Fabulous Characters', the movie is composed of two literary adaptations each featuring the title character of Ichabod Crane and Mr. Toad from Toad Hall. 

The first half stars Mr. Toad in an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows'. I have not read the book, but people who are fond of the original story have long regretted the fact that Disney decided to condense the original story in order to fit it into a package film instead of making it a complete feature. Initially, though, that was exactly what Disney intended to do. As far as I know, the main reason for trimming the adaptation was that Disney thought the anthropomorphized animals were below the Disney feature standard, which I find a little ridiculous considering the existence of Jiminy Cricket, Timothy and many other characters in his previous films. 

Anyway, I might not have read the book, but I can surely see how this segment would have benefited of a feature-length adaptation. While Mr. Toad is a pretty funny character and there is much plot to the story, there isn't really much time for character development. We don't really get to know any of the supporting characters such as Mole, Ratty and McBadger, all of whom seem like great characters form what see of them. It's just that we don't really get time to know them and care about them. We barely have reasons to care for Mr. Toad, who is frantic and does a lot of stuff that kids will find funny, but isn't given the time to proof he is a likable guy worth rooting for. 

Another big problem is that it tends to rely too much in not showing how its characters get out of trouble. Particularly Mr. Toad, who constantly gets into and out of trouble, but rarely is it known how he manages to survive over and over again. But I don't want to come off too strong on the segment. After all, it still has a lot of fun sequences and charms that will surely entertain the young ones. 

The second segment is an adaptation of Washington Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'. As far as I know, unlike 'The Wind in the Willows', this segment was never intended as a feature-length film. And not without reason. I think it works remarkably well as a 30-minute story. 

While 'The Wind in the Willows' segment features many characters, legal battles and contrived escape plots, 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' is a much simpler story, focused basically on three characters: school teacher Ichabod Crane, local bully Brom and the woman they fight over, Katrina Van Tassel. There is also a clear and progression to the relationship between the three that is also easily divisible into different tones and sequences, which embody the film with a strong structure. It is much more well-suited for the short format and the results show it. 

Although there is plenty of it, this time I can't argue about the narration. Bing Crosby is in charge of the narration, which unlike previous entries, always informs the characters and their personalities. Why is the narration so much better this time, you may ask. Well, first, it is used in a very fun way, including many songs performed by Crosby that help establish characters and easily move the plot forward. Second, it makes the movie an almost silent film. Ichabod never speaks in the first half, which makes his encounter with the Headless Horseman in the second half all the scarier. And talk about scary. It's easy to see how Tim Burton took much of what he did in his 'Sleepy Hollow' from this very sequence. It is one of the finest and scariest pieces in the Disney catalogue.

The 'Wind in the Willows' segment might be highly uneven, but the 'Ichabod' segment is so good I wouldn't hesitate calling it the best of the package films. 

Finally, a curious fact: another literary adaptation that at one point was set to take part in the film was Roald Dahl's 'The Gremlins', which Disney long tried to bring to the screen (not to be confused with the 1980s film).  

Next Time: I know, I know. We have finally finished up with the package films, it's finally time to revisit some of the films considered Disney's biggest classics, but the Disney Canon must take a break. Look for a 'Disney Canon Detour' entry in future weeks for the exact date of the Canon's return, which will finally bring us to Disney's second princess: 'Cinderella'. On the meantime, here's the 'Ichabod Crane Song'.

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