..

THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Bing Crosby, Basil Rathbone, Eric Blore
Director: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Video: Color, full-frame 1.33:1
Studio: Disney
Features: Trivia game, Lonesome Ghosts cartoon, sing-along, storybook
Length: 68 minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2000

"We're merrily merrily merrily merrily merrily on our way to nowhere in particular!"

Film ****

The war years of the 1940's were lean times for the Disney company.  Faced with inevitable rationings and a scarcity of color paint for their animated Technicolor films, the Disney company resorted to making propaganda films for the services (Victory Through Air Power, for instance) and quick little music medley films for everyone else (Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, etc.).  Film critics of the day unjustly accused the company of coasting along rather than building upon the potential it had shown with such relatively recent films as Bambi or Pinocchio.  Shortly after the conclusion of the war, however, the Disney animators soon set about restoring the company's diminishing luster.  A few more medley films were made, and then the company released The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).

Though not strictly a feature film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad garnered some of the best reviews for Disney in quite a few years.  This new film displayed a great deal of inventiveness and wild imagination.  Furthermore, it signaled the definite return of the company from the creatively-bereft doldrums forced upon it by war-time economics.  Disney was back in form (as the following year's Cinderella would confirm beyond any reasonable doubt), and the Disney animated division had finally recovered its magical touch.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is actually two separate stories, each one approximately one-half hour in length.  The title notwithstanding, the film starts off first with the Mr. Toad segment, based on Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.  Impeccably narrated by Basil Rathbone, this delightful story focuses upon the wildly fickle Toad, ever captivated by the latest technological trend in his on-going quest to travel faster and further.  Toad, you see, is a speed demon, and when we first encounter him, he is merrily tearing through the countryside in his horse-drawn cart with Cyril, his faithful horse.  The bills soon pile up due to the incessant damage that Toad incurs his wake, ever bringing him upon the brink of bankruptcy.  Only the tireless efforts of his friend MacBadger, on Toad's behalf, prevent Toad from losing custody of his home, Toad Hall, altogether.

Toad has two more devoted friends in Rat and Mole.  However, their attempts to persuade Toad to harness his wild ways are ultimately futile.  The final straw arrives when Toad is caught red-handed with a stolen horseless carriage (one of those new-fandango motorcars).  Toad is thrown in jail and loses Toad Hall to a nefarious gang of weasels.  Rat and Mole refuse to believe that Toad has resorted to thievery, suspecting foul play by the weasels, and with the aid of Cyril, they arrange for Toad's escape from prison and ultimately the clearing of his good name.

Much of the charm of the Mr. Toad segment is derived not only from the inventive sight gags used in the film but also from Rathbone's humorous narration.  He adds a twist of British dry wit to the proceedings, infusing the light Disney animation style with class and style.  It makes for a seamless and harmonious match.  Also notably, Toad is voiced by Eric Blore, a great character actor from the old Astaire-Rogers musicals, and his flustered mannerisms are absolutely pitch-perfect for Toad.

As if the wild rides of Toad weren't enough, the second half of this film presents a timeless adaptation of Washington Irving's perennial Halloween favorite, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  This segment is entirely narrated (and sung) by Der Bingle himself, Bing Crosby.  While his casual, laidback demeanor may seem strange for a "ghost" story, Bing Crosby is actually extremely good as the narrator.  He brings a great sense of fun to the lackey but lovable Ichabod Crane, and his Headless Horseman song within this segment is one of the film's highlights.

As the familiar story goes, Ichabod Crane is the new schoolmaster in the town of Sleepy Hollow.  Katrina, the local beauty, catches his eye one day, and he decides to woo her.  However, he has a major rival for her affections in the brawny Brom (clearly the inspiration for the character Gaston in Disney's later Beauty & the Beast).  The Ichabod segment follows the humorous courtship ritual between Ichabod and Katrina, with Brom's futile attempts to intervene.

Brom gets his revenge, though.  On a dark and stormy All Hallow's Eve, at a town party with most everyone in attendance, Brom relates the ghostly tale of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.  Ichabod Crane, listening to this ghostly song, starts to let his imagination get the better of him.  This highly entertaining song could almost be considered the highlight of the Ichabod segment, except that it is soon followed by the film's most famous sequence - Ichabod's ride home through the woods and his ghastly encounter with none other than the Headless Horseman himself!

This chase finale is top-notch Disney, combining sly humor with prickly goose bumps.  The Horseman himself is rendered quite powerfully, recalling to mind the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from Fantasia.  And of course, everyone knows how the Halloween tale turns out.  But for those few who do not, I leave you with some words of wisdom from Der Bingle himself:  "Don't try to figure out a plan, you can't reason with a headless man!"

Video **

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is presented in its original full-frame Technicolor format.  The colors are as bright and cheerful as ever, though the print used for the transfer, which contains a copious amount of dust and debris, could have used some clean-up work.  There are traces of color density fluctuations as well, as is typical in these older cel-animated films.  Otherwise, the picture quality is clear and detailed, and the transfer is decent.

Audio **

The film is presented in a monaural format.  The sound is a little scratchy and strains mildly at the upper registers but is otherwise serviceable.

There are several songs in the film - a very short intro theme song, one in the Mr. Toad segment, and several sung by Bing Crosby in the Ichabod segment with accompaniment by the Rhythmaires.

Features **

The extra features on this disc are geared primarily towards children.  There is a sing-along to the "Merrily Song" from the Mr. Toad segment.  The Ichabod segment has its own storybook, which children can either read on their own or choose to have a narrator read for them.

A bonus cartoon, Lonesome Ghosts, features Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy as ghostbusters trying to clean up a haunted house.  They eventually scare away the ghosts by pretending to be ghosts themselves!

Lastly, there is a trivia game.  For every question kids answer correctly about the Mr. Toad segment, a cute little toy car icon will inch further along an animated country path towards Toad Hall.  Each wrong question results in a flat tire; answer four questions incorrectly and the game is over.  Answer fifteen questions correctly, and the car reaches Toad Hall!  Here is the best part - winning the game unlocks an easter egg, a bonus cartoon!  It's a famous Disney cartoon, too, 1952's Susie the Little Blue Coupe, narrated by Sterling Holloway (and directed by Clyde Geronimi).  It is well worth winning this fairly easy trivial game to see this cartoon!

Summary:

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was the animated film that finally brought the Disney company out of its wartime doldrums.  It's still a lot of fun today and definitely worth checking out, particularly on one of those dark and stormy nights!

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com