This is the fourth article in an ongoing series that will form a comprehensive review of the ‘official’ Walt Disney Animation Studios canon – from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through 2016’s Moana.
For reference, here is a complete list of the films in the Disney canon.
- Film: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
- Year: 1949
- Director(s): Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, and James Algar
- Length: 68 Minutes
- Source Material: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
- Official Budget: Not Available
- Official Box Office: Not Available
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad marks the end of the ‘Package Film Era’ for Disney Studios. With the onset of World War II, many animators were drafted into service, and the US Government had conscripted Disney to begin producing wartime propaganda films. Unable to release features in many foreign markets during war and struggling to remain profitable, the decision was made to abandon features films and produce packaged shorts.
‘The Wind in the Willows’ began production prior to the United States’ involvement in World War II, and was conceived originally as a feature. With 33 minutes completed after the first 6 months of work, Walt Disney found the animation below studio standards, and shelved the project until after the war; deeming Mr. Toad a future packaged film short.
Feature production for an adaptation of Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ began in late 1946, but it was quickly identified that the film length would not meet feature status;and after production was completed, Walt Disney paired it with ‘The Wind in the Willows’ short. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was released as the final of 6 packaged films from Disney in October 1949. Although Ichabod is listed first in the film title, Mr. Toad’s story is the first shown to audiences.
Both shorts are essentially one-act plots with some superfluous ‘side adventures’ to lengthen the reel. It is worth noting that there are no similarities whatsoever in story, theme,or tone between these shorts – causing one to wonder what reasons they were matched up together beyond Mr. Toad and The Adventures of Ichabod being the last two shorts Disney had to shove off into the box office before they could refocus on more ambitious projects.
In Mr. Toad, the titular Toad is on the verge of bankruptcy from fad-induced mania. Regardless of his friends’ intervention, Mr. Toad finds himself on the wrong side of the law and at odds with a group of criminal weasels looking to con Mr. Toad out his the Toad Hall estate. The story is odd and slapstick, but quickly paced; so while mind-numbingly stupid, isn’t as bitter a pill to swallow as expected.
The Adventures of Ichabod is not nearly as pleasant; and that is saying something about the relative quality of these shorts to other Disney films. The fable follows the dopey schoolmaster Ichabod Crane as he arrives in Sleepy Hollow; and his competition with the brutish Brom for the affection of Katrina van Tassel, all before eventually being attacked by a Headless Horseman. With no dialogue in this short, and given no reason to invest in the plot – The Adventures of Ichabod is a boring and tedious short.
Mr. Toad is an mania-riddled jester paired with his equally bizarre horse companion, Cyril Proudbottom; but they make an entertaining diversion from Toad’s clean-cut friends Ratty and Moley. Eventual adversary Winky and his weasel comrades are a fun addition. Regardless of the brief entertainment value, nothing here is even close to memorable.
In the other short, we have 4 main characters – Ichabod Crane, Brom, Katrina van Tassel, and the menacing Headless Horseman. We learn almost nothing of note or value about any of these characters past the archetypical ‘dense good guy’, ‘overbearing bully’, ‘unassuming beauty’, and ‘villain’; respectively. These are not characters – but character outlines that ought to be developed.
An error in the ‘package film’ concept, Mr. Toad and The Adventures of Ichabod were developed separately and bear zero animation similarities. Had these been developed together, there could be uniformity; instead these two shorts are mismatched and feel forced together. The animation in Mr. Toad is juvenile and could easily pass as a cheap Saturday morning cartoon. The Adventures of Ichabod is reminiscent of an earlier, more simplistic Disney animation style; missing the time investment from animators necessary to create a worthy final product.
The only song of mention is a childish jingle called ‘We’re Merrily on Our Way’, sung my Mr. Toad and his numbskull horse Cyril – detailing their zealous embrace of induced mania that eventually results in Mr. Toad’s bankruptcy and imprisonment. Not the greatest role model for children viewers.
While the ‘Package Film Era’ may have been the needed bridge to keep Disney afloat during wartime, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad cannot be redeemed from its many, many flaws.