And now we have one final film featuring Bing Crosby as our Star Of The Month! In this instance, he does some voice work alongside Basil Rathbone in the 1949 Disney animated film The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad! However, due to the nature of the film, I will take a similar approach to last year’s Invitation To The Dance (1956) review, and throw in a table of contents to help find the different sections quicker!
Table Of Contents
- Theatrical Short
- The Main Feature
- My Overall Impression
Coming Up Shorts! with… The Reckless Driver (1946)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 46 seconds)
While driving on the highway, Woody sees a billboard reminding him to renew his driver’s license. Going to the department of motor vehicles, he tries to renew it with officer Wally Walrus. This one was quite entertaining, as Woody dealt with Wally’s attempts to flunk him on the test. The various gags did their job, providing me with a few good laughs throughout. Woody and Wally still make for good enemies here, which makes it easier to keep coming around for more!
And Now For The Main Feature…
After Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs turned out to be such a hit for Walt Disney, he was approached about doing an animated movie based on the 1908 Kenneth Grahame book The Wind In The Willows. Walt was initially reluctant, but he ended up buying the film rights in 1938. A few years later (in 1941), his animators started working on the film. However, the movie suffered some delays in between his animators striking, and the project being shelved because he thought the quality wasn’t good enough. After the second World War ended, he went back to the idea, but decided to shorten the story and make it part of a package film. At first, the plan was to combine it with The Legend Of Happy Valley and The Gremlins (an original story by Roald Dahl), but The Gremlins ended up not happening, and The Legend Of Happy Valley ended up being paired with the story Bongo for the 1947 film Fun And Fancy Free. Meanwhile, work had begun on The Legend Of Sleep Hollow in 1946, and a decision was made to pair that up with The Wind In The Willows, with Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby brought in to narrate the two stories due to their audience appeal. The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad turned out to be a hit, and was Disney’s last package film until the much later The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh (1977). When aired on television in the 1950s, the two segments were separated (with The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow having a fourteen minute prologue on the life of author Washington Irving added to it), which was the only way to see the segments until the advent of home video (although the Washington Irving prologue has yet to be made available on home video).
The Wind In The Willows
As narrated by Basil Rathbone, we are told the story of one J. Thaddeus Toad (Eric Blore), who resides in Toad Hall near London, England. Toad Hall is a source of pride for many in the community, but trouble is at the door. Toad, famous for obsessively following the latest fads (or “manias”), is facing bankruptcy due to his escapades. His friend, Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant), has taken over as his bookkeeper, but he has come to the conclusion that Toad must stop with these manias. So, Angus recruits some mutual friends, Ratty (Claude Allister) and Mole (Colin Campbell), to stop Toad’s latest mania: roaming around the countryside in a gypsy cart led by his horse friend, Cyril Proudbottom (J. Pat O’Malley). Ratty and Mole try to stop him, but he develops a new interest: motor cars! They try to lock Toad up in his room, but he escapes, and is soon arrested for “stealing a motor car.” At the trial, Toad says that he had gone to a tavern, where he bought a motor car from some weasels. Since he hadn’t any money, he traded them the deed to Toad Hall. When Toad asks the bartender, Mr. Winkie (Ollie Wallace), to give his testimony, Mr. Winkie instead declares that Toad had tried to sell HIM a stolen motor car! This results in the court throwing the book at Toad and sentencing him to twenty years in the Tower Of London. On Christmas Eve, Cyril comes to visit (disguised as Toad’s “grandmother”) and gives him an outfit to escape. Toad makes his way to Ratty’s home, where they all find out from Angus that the weasels (led by Mr. Winkie, no less!) have moved into Toad Hall. His friends now know the truth, but can they get the deed back and prove Toad’s innocence to the law?
Due to the two segments being separated for the early part of my life, I’m not sure if I ever saw the The Wind In The Willows as a kid (and if I did, it was maybe one time). That being said, I KNOW I saw the song “Merrily On Our Way (To Nowhere In Particular)” many, MANY times (mainly due to the song being included as part of a Disney Sing-A-Long VHS that I wore out from frequent viewings as a little kid). I finally got around to seeing the entire film in 2020 (the first time I had seen much of ANYTHING from the movie, including the sing-a-long in nearly two decades), and I can tell you this: that song STILL sticks with me, even after all this time! Even ignoring that, I also find the whole segment to be a lot of fun. Of course, one thing that makes watching this as an adult enjoyable is the voice acting. As a kid, you could have told me the narrator was Basil Rathbone, or that Mr. Toad was Eric Blore, and that would have meant nothing to me. Now, as a fan of classic cinema, those two names mean a lot more to me, which makes it just that much more appealing! Of course, it’s also easy to tell that some of the footage was “recycled” later on for part of the Disney film The Jungle Book, but it’s still fun to see how it was done the first time. Overall, The Wind In The Willows is an entertaining segment that I’ve come to enjoy seeing every now and then!
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow
As narrated (and sung) by Bing Crosby, we are told the tale of traveling schoolteacher Ichabod Crane. He has just come to the New England town of Sleepy Hollow, where he becomes the new teacher. He maintains a firm hand in the classroom (except, of course, with students who have mothers that are good cooks). His ways are odd, which causes him to become a victim of the pranks of the most popular man in town, Brom Bones (although Ichabod just shrugs him off). The two quickly become rivals for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, one of the most beautiful women in town (and daughter of Baltus van Tassel, the richest farmer in the area). Ichabod manages to outwit Brom Bones at every opportunity (helped by Katrina stoking the rivalry, since she doesn’t want to make things easy for Brom Bones, who always seems to get what he wants). On Halloween night, when Baltus Van Tassel throws a party, Brom Bones notices how superstitious Ichabod is, and tells the story of the Headless Horseman, who haunts an area nearby every Halloween as he looks for a new head (and of course, the area he haunts would have to be right along the way Ichabod has to travel to get home). So now, Ichabod has to face this long, scary ride back in the dark. Will he get back alright, or will he run into the Headless Horseman?
Ah. The Legend Of Sleep Hollow. The reason for this package film being included as part of this month’s Star Of The Month blogathon. Unlike the Wind In The Willows segment, I saw this one many a time as a kid (but stopped watching it long before I got into classic live-action films). As a kid, I always found this one entertaining (but, again, the fact that Bing Crosby narrated it meant zilch to me at that time). As an adult (and a classic film fan), not only is it more fun that Bing Crosby is narrating, I can now see the different ways that they incorporated elements of Bing Crosby and his persona into the segment, whether it be his manner of speech in his narration, the style of crooning (when Ichabod is leading the three women as part of their choral society), or Ichabod’s ears. Of course, having always thought of the character Brom Bones as being similar to the character Gaston from the later Disney film Beauty And The Beast, it feels weird to hear Bing’s voice coming out of that character as well, but certainly not enough to throw me. All three songs in this segment (“Ichabod,” “Katrina” and “The Headless Horseman”) are quite fun, but it’s definitely “The Headless Horseman” that is the most memorable! But the final section, with Ichabod going through the woods at night (and facing off against the Headless Horseman) is very effective in being scary, as the narration almost disappears, leaving us to endure Ichabod’s imagination slowly running wild (and who can blame him?) up until he realizes that (and then, of course, the Horseman shows up). It’s as scary as anything I can think of from a Disney cartoon, and yet, in spite of the fact that I just do not care for horror/scary stuff (as I’ve indicated in the past), I actually like to watch it! I can’t deny that this one is definitely a different Disney story, since it can be quite ambiguous, not only in the story’s ending, but in whether the story actually has a “hero” for us to cheer for (since Ichabod is interested in Katrina’s father’s wealth as much as he is her). As a kid, this one was fun for me, and as an adult, it’s even better!
My Overall Impression
While I left this film (or rather, I should say the segment The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow) behind for a long time, it was one that I had a lot of fun coming around to when I saw the whole thing in 2020. I’ve had the good pleasure to revisit it a few times since, and it’s been a fun Disney film! In some respects, it’s one that works well for two different holidays, what with part of The Wind In The Willows taking place around Christmastime (even if it barely touches on that in the story), and then The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow‘s most famous part being on Halloween night. With the now familiar-to-me voice talent behind-the-scenes, and the very enjoyable tales onscreen, it’s one that I very much enjoy, and have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Disney.
Film Length: 1 hour, 8 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Romance On The High Seas (1948) – Eric Blore
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