The Last Package Film is Arguably the Best
Originally Released: 1949
Walt Disney closed out a very busy 1940’s decade with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the studio’s 11th feature animated film. Looking back, I find it impressive that, despite World War II sapping Walt’s resources, along with other challenges, Disney still managed to churn out ten animated feature films in this time frame (in addition to its separate shorts and even forays into live-action film). Though six of these films were packaged collections of shorts, it is still quite inspiring to see just how much the studio accomplished, including the amount of stories, the variety in the stories told, the artistry, and the splendid animation.
With The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Disney released the last of the series of packaged films and effectively closed out what could be considered the first era of Disney feature animation. What would follow in the 1950’s and beyond is a string of Disney hits that rivals any other period in its 52-film history. Stay tuned, because the next few weeks will be lots of fun. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Disney’s 11th animated feature, consisting of The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is no failure by any means, and in my opinion can hold its own with the best of the rest.
First is The Wind in the Willows, narrated by actor Basil Rathbone. Now I have a confession to make. I remembered nothing about this cartoon. As I watched it, I kept waiting for something to trigger a memory, but it never came. I don’t know if I am alone in this, but to me at least, the story of J. Thaddeus Toad, Ratty, Mole, and the rest of the gang has quietly fallen into obscurity. It is a shame, too, because I had a blast watching it. But, on the bright side, because I couldn’t remember anything about it, it felt like an added bonus of watching a Disney film for the very first time.
The film is not a serious one, and the animation style more resembles the Mickey and Donald shorts than something from, say, Bambi. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. The entire scene where Toad and his allies try to retrieve the deed from the villainous weasels, with Mole hanging from the bedsheets, the group getting chased all over the place, paper airplanes being thrown, and the revolving door, is wild and crazy and very entertaining. I also enjoyed the court scene. Overall the film was had a nice, fun feel and was great entertainment.
But the real gem of this package is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This segment I remember well, and I have always loved it. Based on the story by Washington Irving, it follows the tall, lanky ladies’ man, pie thief, and schoolteacher Ichabod Crane as he tries to win the heart of flirty town beauty Katrina Van Tassel.
Sleepy Hollow is clever, has funny moments, and has memorable scenes and characters. But what I find most impressive is just how perfectly it balances being scary, but not too scary for the little kids to watch. The lonely ride through the forest is brilliant and does a great job showing how paranoid Ichabod becomes, with crickets, frogs, and crows supposedly calling his name. It is something most of us can probably relate to when we have been frightened. When the Headless Horseman finally appears, it continues to be scary, but not too scary. The balancing act achieved in the segment I feel is worthy of praise.
There were some things that came to my attention for the first time as I watched the movie again. First was the realization that it was narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. This is significant because I actually know who Bing Crosby is now. The second thing was that I realized Katrina was just using poor Ichabod and there was never really any doubt that she would eventually end up with the town Bully Brom Bones. Ichabod never stood a chance (Brom, by the way, has a strong resemblance to later Disney character Gaston, in both looks and personality traits. I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence). Lastly, there is some great horse trotting animation in this film.
This was the package film I was most looking forward to watching, and it did not disappoint. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a package film done right.