(1949)Directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Despite the rather awkward title, THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD should be more well known than it is. The two half-hour segments, one based on Kenneth Grahame's children's novel The Wind in the Willows and the other on Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", don't really fit together well, but judged individually, the two segments are entirely pleasurable and full of clever and perfectly timed gags. Being a Disney film, the source material is treated with about as much reverence and respect as Groucho Marx treated Margaret Dumont, an approach which is sure to irritate some fans of the books. But if you are going to enjoy Disney, you're going to have to deal with swing tunes in the story of Ichabod Crane and Abbott and Costello chases at Toad Hall.
The first section, edited from a planned film that wound up in development limbo, follows the story of the impulsive Mr. Toad, who is so taken with the new-fangled automobile, he develops "motor mania" and is soon convicted of stealing a car and sent to prison. Although this featurette fails to capture the spirit of Grahame's novel, it contains two highly memorable segments. The first is a courtroom scene which could have come right out of a Three Stooges or Marx Brothers films, with unscrupulous lawyers, judges and witnesses all stacking the deck against poor old "Toadie". The second is a great slapstick scene in which the four main characters - Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger (renamed McBadger) - attempt to retrieve an important document from a shady witness while battling a gang of weasels, who look like they could have come straight out of a Tex Avery short. Basil Rathbone lends his officious vocal tones as narrator.
The second and more successful segment features Bing Crosby narrating and crooning his way through Washington Irving's ghostly tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his love for a young woman, and his mysterious disappearance attributed to the legend of a headless horseman. This segment only becomes ghostly in the final few minutes. Before the amazing finale, which features some of Disney's finest animation of the 1940's, the story is a fast-paced gag show laced with swing tunes sung by Crosby himself, backed by the Rhythmaires. The short does not feature a single word of spoken dialogue and is told mostly through music, lyrics, pantomime and sight gags.
Neither story would have probably made a cohesive feature by themselves and don't make a cohesive feature together, but THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD was still a good way not only to salvage the shelved Wind in the Willows footage but also to allow the Disney animators a nice little tuneup before tackling the full-length CINDERELLA. ½ - JB