Saturday, January 23, 2010

#11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

The final of Disney's six package films is a doubler header, telling the classic tales of 'The Wind in the Willows' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.' Combining these two stories I felt was a wise move; it's almost as if the animators knew that neither could sustain a full movie length, so they cut it in half and gave each story their respective due. Both of them are truly satisfying and appealing extended shorts, almost as if they serve as a transition back to the feature-length stories that would soon follow.
Despite the organization of the title, Mr. Toad's story is first. J. Thaddeus Toad is the wealthy proprietor of Toad Hall, and is an eccentric adventurer who's always getting up to mayhem and mischief. As a result, he finds himself horribly in debt, and his friends and constituents are at the breaking point. Before they can put a stop to it however, Toad ends up losing the deed to Toad Hall, and is arrested for car theft, and thanks to a fraudulent testimony from a shady tavernkeeper, he is thrown in jail. Much time passes, and eventually Toad's horse assists in his escape, and he must enlist his former friends to clear his wrongfully accused name.
Contrasting many of Disney's pure, innocent characters of the past, Mr. Toad is absolutely out of his mind. He's got his head in too many places at once, and is a absolutely lovable maniac, despite the fact that you completely agree with the utter frustration of his friends. The story is a rather simple one, but told in a loose and fun way. There are plenty of great scenes, like the court case with the incredibly irritable prosecutor interrogating Toad's horse, and Toad's hijacking of a train to escape the cops, and his utter jubilation of it all despite him being under fire. And best of all, just when you think Toad is a reformed man... err, toad, he of course goes back to his old ways. No polished traditional ending, he's still the same irresponsible chap he was before, and that's good enough for me.
Following that crazy character comes another, the life and times of Ichabod Crane. He blows into Sleepy Hollow as the school's new headmaster, and his oddball appearance leaves him open to mockery from the town bully, but for some reason he captures the hearts of all the women in town. However Ichabod is instantly smitted by Katrina Von Tassel, the only daughter of the wealthiest farm owner in the area. He competes with the bully (whose name is apparently Brom Bones) for her affections, and he comes up on top. Later during the Halloween ball, all is going well for Crane, until Bones takes advantage of his superstitious nature by telling the tale of the Headless Horseman, who of course ambushes Crane on his ride home, and his whereabouts are unknown the following day.
Ichabod Crane may be a more crazy character than Toad, believe it or not. He sweeps into town, this lanky strange-looking fellow, and for some reason all the women love him. That and he seems to be taking advantage of all of his student's mother's hospitality... and who knows what else. But his motives are truly strange on his pursuance of Katrina. First it seems he is truly in love with her like everyone else. Then it seems like he's interested in her family's delicious line of crops. Then he seems to be a gold digger wanting the family estate. None of his motives seem clear or just, but we seem to like the character anyway for some reason. Perhaps it's because Bones is a humongous asshole; at the dance he shuns the attention of a short fat lady, but then tries to use her to butt into Ichabod's business, then tosses her into the cellar. But as for the whole short, it's just as good as Toad, silly, fun and breezy. The animation's real good too, the appropriate mix of Disney's looser shorts and their more realistic film work, particularly the frenzied chase of the Horseman.

Verdict? Definitely my favorite of all the package films, mostly because it just tells two strong stories, full of craziness, humor and great visuals. It's a real fun movie, that's all I can really say of it, starring two great anti-heroes. Well, they're not quite anti-heroes. Just heroes of questionable integrity, and aren't those the best kind?

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