Ranking the Disney Canon – 17: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

“Come along! Hop up here! We’ll go for a jolly ride! The open road! The dusty highway! Come! I’ll show you the world! Travel! Scene! Excitement! Ha ha ha!”

Mr. Toad

It’s time for the first package film in the Top 25! Huzzah! Ichabod and Mr. Toad also was the final Package Film to be released by the Walt Disney Studios. As such, it is the film that marks the end of the World War II era of animation for Disney. The next film, Cinderella, would be their first single story feature in nearly a decade. But we’ll save the Cinderella discussion for another day, hmm? Let’s get back to the task as hand.

Ichabod and Mr. Toad join Fun and Fancy Free in the “Feature Length Shorts” category of Package Film, featuring two longer segments with full story and character rather than a shorter collection of shorts. The first short of the feature is “The Wind in the Willows,” narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself, Basil Rathbone, and starring the lovable J. Thaddeus Toad. In the segment, the financial state of Toad Hall is a mess, and Toad’s friends attempt to stop him from indulging in his new obsession, Motor Cars. When Toad sneaks out and gets framed for stealing a car, he loses the ownership of Toad Hall. After a daring escape from Jail, Toad and his friends Ratty, Moley, and MacBadger must take Toad Hall back from the Weasels and their leader, Mr. Winky. The second segment is “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” narrated by Bing Crosby. It tells the classic tale of Teacher Ichabod Crane, a man with a love for food and the uncanny ability to charm women. When Ichabod falls head over heels for the beautiful Katrina, rival suitor Brom uses Ichabod’s superstitious beliefs against him, and relays the story of The Headless Horseman at a Halloween party. Ichabod must get to the bridge before the Headless Horseman takes his head!

A note: In recent years, Disney has actually released the two segments from this film in separate sets in the short films collection. Naturally, we will be taking a look at the original 1948 version of the film, which has also been released on home video.

STRENGTHS

This is a film that kept moving up and up on my list because the segments here are just stunningly brilliant. I really didn’t remember the two segments from this film being that good, but man, they are that good! True story, I actually let out an audible “Wow” after I finished the viewing of this film for this list. It jumped nearly 20 spots from my pre ranking list to the current spot. Let’s take a look at how the film impressed me, shall we?

We’ll start with the first segment, “The Wind in the Willows.” The theme that connects the two shorts in this film are that the narrators mention that these stories feature classic characters. And indeed, one of the major strengths of the Mr. Toad segment is that it has extremely strong characters. None stronger than our main character, Mr. Toad himself. Mr. Toad is wonderfully energetic with a wonderful voice and a wonderful personality and worldview. He’s one of those character that is so much fun to watch and experience. And while I normally desire an arc from the characters, one of the things that makes Mr. Toad great is the fact that his arc is halted. He has this huge realization in jail about his life and where he has gone wrong, only to drop the entire notion as soon as the opportunity to escape arises. That’s a part of what makes Mr. Toad a wonderful character, and one of the underrated characters in Disney History. Sherlock Holmes was right, as he always is.

Of course, Wind in the Willows has many other strong characters too. Cyril J. Proudbottom, ┬áMr. Toad’s loyal horse, is a scene stealer, and has a memorable moment in every scene he is in, especially the courtroom scene. Ratty, Moley, and MacBadger all have their moments to shine, and they make for great, serious friends of Toad’s. And our villains, Mr. Winky and the Weasels (who would later be the inspiration for the Weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), are that classic mix of humorous and sinister, and contribute to a class final battle for the Deed to Toad Hall. Even the lawyer opposing Toad at the trial has some great moments on-screen. There are too many great characters to count, and each one has their own moment in the sun. And the voice acting in this film, especially Mr. Toad’s and Cyril’s, is absolutely perfect.

And the other thing that’s great about Mr. Toad? The fact that it is absolutely hilarious! Mr. Toad and Cyril make you laugh every single time they are on-screen. It’s the great characters that allow this segment to be as funny as it is. The courtroom scene, Toad’s escape from prison, and the final raid on Toad Hall especially are fantastic moments of comedy. The style of humor in this segment is perfectly Disney and perfect for the story, and it’s humor that you love to come back to. It is just as enjoyable to me now as it was back when I was first wowed by it.

Remember when I said that in these “Feature Length Shorts” style Package Films that there were two shorts that I wished could be expanded and two that I certainly prefer in my mind as shorts? It’s time to get to that category on this post. Wind in the Willows is one of those shorts that I wished had actually been expanded into a Full Feature. It’s got the characters, the story, the humor, the action, and the classic nature of the material would have potentially been a Top 10 Disney feature. Wind in the Willows actually takes the prize of my all time favorite Feature Length Short. It is so very excellent.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may not be up to the level of Wind in the Willows, but it is pretty dang good in its own right. Just like in the Wind in the Willows segment, and just like the film claims, it has some really good characters. The film quickly establishes Ichabod’s own quirks and his own brilliance, and his uncanny ability to attract girls. Ichabod has an extremely memorable design, with his lanky body dominating the scene every time he appears. It are his quirks that end up creating the best moments of the story, and the segment does a great job building up Ichabod’s character.

Honestly, though, the real star of the segment is Bing Crosby. Bing is just fantastic throughout the entirety of the segment, and it’s his songs and narration that really bring everything together. “Ichabod” does such a perfect job at describing the character of Ichabod, and The Headless Horseman song is one of the absolute classics of this film. And the thing is, these songs fit perfectly with Bing’s voice and style, and his style and voice fit perfectly with the story, as surprising as it is. Who knew that Bing Crosby and Colonial America would fit so well together? It’s a pretty interesting combination, and one that ultimately works out extremely well. It was a huge risk that paid off with a huge reward.

Let’s take a quick break from the Sleepy Hollow story and talk about the music for a second, since this seems like the appropriate moment to do so. The music in this film is fantastic. I’ve already gone over what makes the Bing Crosby sounds of Sleepy Hollow so great, but Wind in the Willows is not to be outdone. “Merrily on Our Way to Nowhere” is such an underrated Disney song, and is so much fun to listen to. The scores for these two segments are also a lot of fun, and just add to the enjoyment of the program.

Now, back to the wonders of Sleepy Hollow. As much as Bing Crosby and the set up are great, the ending is the an absolute classic of Disney animation. Yes, Bing contributes with this with the Headless Horseman song (which is another extremely underrated Disney song), but the real shining star of the segment is what happens after Ichabod leaves his party. The initial part of the return is a fantastic look into how sound design can increase the intensity of a scene. This is a great example of how important sound design is not only to animation, but to film in general. And even though the segment is very tense, it manages to keep the humor with Ichabod’s manic reactions to every little thing and his horse’s general laziness.

And then of course, the Headless Horseman shows up. These final 4 minutes of the film are even more intense and more humorous than the last part. The Headless Horseman, for as little screen time as he gets, has such a memorable design that he is imprinted into your brain, as well as his red-eyed horse. The chase and the run for the bridge are as perfect as a package film and a Disney film can get. Great animation, great humor, great action. The final 8 minutes of Ichabod and Mr. Toad could certainly contend for the best final 8 minutes of a Disney film ever.

WEAKNESSES

I truly don’t have any complaints about the Toad segment. Seriously. Not that it is perfect, because nothing ever is, but nothing shoots to mind as something I should talk about here. Call it the first weaknessless segment, if you want to.

Sleepy Hollow, on the other hand, has just a tiny bit that doesn’t work for me. I think it is a weakness that the segment allows a little too much on Bing Crosby. Yes, he is fantastic, but the overabundance of him in the film, and the fact that he voices every male and sings every song, doesn’t allow Brom and Katrina to have their own moments the way that the characters in Toad are able to have these moment. Granted, the segment is still absolutely fantastic, but I feel that it could be even better if they had given Brom and Katrina just a bit more time to themselves and to allow themselves to build up. That’s why I feel like I’d prefer this film as a short rather than a feature. I can’t imagine it succeeding as much without Bing. I would have a lot of work to do.

(If somehow Bongo and Mr. Toad were paired together in a package film, then we’d have a Top 10 and possibly Top 5 Disney Feature.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Because both segments are so good, and because I LOVE this film so much, I’m giving you the best moment and song from each segment!

Mr. Toad’s Best Song, as mentioned above, is “Merrily on Our Way to Nowhere.” A very catch tune and a great one at that.

Mr. Toad’s Best scene is the final battle for the Deed to Toad Hall. Great physical comedy and just as a whole a great ending to an amazing segment.

The best song of Sleepy Hollow is the Headless Horseman song. It is extremely catchy. You may get this one stuck in your head.

And finally, the best scene for Sleepy Hollow is those last 8 minutes I was talking about, the ride away from the party and the headless horseman chase. Simple Brilliance. But you know that if you read the above praise for such a segment.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I think my post has said it all, hasn’t it? The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a near perfect Package Film, and it no doubt deserves to be counted among the great films that Disney has to offer. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you check out the entirety of the film. It is fantastic. And it is only the second best Package film! Mr. Toad, you shall live forever. Ichabod, well, as long as you don’t get your head chopped off, you will too.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 18: Peter Pan

“All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” – Narrator

Peter Pan, released in 1953, was originally intended to be Walt Disney’s second animated feature all the way back in 1940, but the combination of rights issues with the original source material and the outbreak of World War 2 forced the production to be delayed. Through these 13 years, the story and characters would change many times, and would have versions that were both closer to the original play and versions that were even more radically different from it. In the end, the film would eventually the third Canon film released in the 1950s.

Peter Pan begins as Wendy Darling is berated by her father for allowing her younger siblings to become rowdy, and declares her to be too old to continue to be in the nursery. This greatly upsets Wendy, who can’t imagine life without telling her siblings stories about Peter Pan. That very night, Peter Pan visits the nursery looking for his shadow, and discovers the great tragedy that has befallen the nursery. To the delight of everyone except a jealous Tinker Bell, Peter invites the group to come to Neverland with him. With a little pixie dust and a little fun, they fly off, only to be attacked by Peter’s arch nemesis, Captain Hook. Peter manages to escape and take his crew to the Lost Boys for Wendy to be their mother. Peter and Wendy continue to battle Hook, and also experience mermaid and Indians in the world of Neverland.

STRENGTHS

The one thing that Peter Pan does amazing is building great characters. Out of all the characters in the film, Wendy is overall the best built. The film may be named after Peter Pan, but this is Wendy’s movie. From the very beginning, the audience gets her charms and her motherly instincts and are immediately drawn to like her. Her emotional state throughout the film feels real, and especially when she is saddened by the fact that she will no longer be in the nursery. And yet her journey to accepting adulthood is completely believable. Much like Alice’s journey (More on that later), it is the ridiculousness of Neverland that shows Wendy that growing up is a good thing. She is charming and cute even in her most angry moments, and Kathryn Beaumont adds a ton of warmth to the role. She was the perfect casting choice for Wendy, and I can’t imagine the character working with any other voice. Wendy remains a shining star throughout the entire film.

Before we move onto other characters, I do want to mention that one of the things that truly enhances Wendy’s journey is the fantastic opening 10 minutes of the film, before Peter Pan is even introduced. This sequence does an amazing job at building up the character of the Darling family, and is key to making Wendy the great character she is. But this sequence does more than just build Wendy. This sequence is essentially what we get of Nana the St. Bernard and Mr. Darling, but both have some wonderful comedy here and add to the amazingness of this sequence. And of course, this our introduction to the other Darling children, Michael and John, who are just as fun. All in All, it is a great opening sequence.

And right after this opening sequence comes the introduction of Peter himself. Peter is a really fun character. His cockiness, his brashness, and his “all fun all the time” worldview come together to create a truly memorable male lead. The chase for his shadow and his continual battles with Captain Hook are by far the best sections of the character, but what really makes him special is his relationship with Wendy. Peter Pan’s personality is the perfect one to facilitate Wendy’s growth as a character, and they have a really interesting dynamic throughout the film, especially after Wendy’s annoyance with Peter’s antics. Peter is a ton of fun every time he is on-screen.

And of course, you can’t talk about Peter Pan without talking about Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell, in my opinion, is the film’s funniest character. One of the perfect examples of why Animation is great and why Disney succeeds so well with silent characters, Tinker Bell has some fantastic physical humor and has hilarious expressions throughout the entirety of the film. Her jealousy of Wendy adds some great tension and storylines to the film, yet she remains the very hilarious character throughout it all. And the animation of her is amazing. Very expressive and very fun to watch.

And the final great character on our list of great characters is the film’s villain, Captain Hook. Captain Hook is also in contention for Peter Pan’s funniest character, and is among the many great villains in Disney History. A wonderful performance by Hans Conried brings so much humor to the character, and it is a voice that will stick with you for a long time. But what makes Hook a great villain, like many of the great Disney villains, is that even through his humor he is a credible threat. Sure, he has his silly moments and his hilarious quirks (Never Smile at a Crocodile comes to mind), but through all that, the film presents Hook as a thoughtful, though arrogant, thinker who can really get a good idea and run with it. This always gives him somewhat of an aura even when Peter Pan is at his best. He is also able to convince Tinker Bell to give him the location of Peter, which showcases his talents. Hook easily makes it into the memorable book.

Alongside Captain Hook is his bumbling partner Mr. Smee. Mr. Smee and Hook have such a wonderful dynamic and comedy duo form to them. Hook and Smee have some of the film’s funniest sequences, and were just two personalities meant to be together. The scene in the caves is a particularly strong sequence mainly because of the triple dynamic of Smee, Hook, and Peter, all playing against and with each other.

And as good as the Smee/Hook and the Peter/Wendy dynamics are, the Peter/Hook dynamic is the film’s show stealing one. Peter Pan has some great action throughout, and most of this comes from the interactions between Hook and Peter. Everytime the two face off, so much fun is to be had. This is especially true in their final battle, which is arguably one of the film’s most memorable moments. The way Peter taunts and plays with Hook is absolutely fantastic, and adds a lot to the film’s humorous tones.

Moving on from character, he film’s biggest successes plot wise are in the first and third acts. The introduction of the film and the journey to Neverland, as mentioned above, are some of the film’s strongest moments. Moments that are just as strong come closer to the end of the film, for the Final Battle between Hook and Peter and the return to London for the Darling Children. Both of these sections of the film are full of great humor, dialogue, and action.

Finally, the soundtrack. For the most part, The soundtrack is great. Again, not one of the strongest in Disney History, but there are no bad songs. The two truly memorable songs are “Second Star to the Right” and “You Can Fly.” The real musical highlight, though, is the score. This is the first time I’ve mentioned Oliver Wallace on this blog, but be sure I’ll mention him again in the future. The score is full of fantastic variations on the melodies of the songs, and are absolutely wonderful to listen to.

WEAKNESSES

 

Much like Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan only has a few minor glitches, but as we approach films with practically no glitches, these glitches really determine the ranking.

I’ll start the weaknesses section by talking about the elephant in the room when it comes to Peter Pan. It really is hard to discuss the portrayal of Indians in this film considering that it is politically incorrect by today’s standards. Even when trying to ignore that, however, it is very easy to see that The Indians are the weakest part of the film. They really contribute no humor, their song is the film’s weakest by far, and the only one that feels of any importance is Tiger Lilly, who really just feels like she is there only to create the wonderful scene between Hook, Smee, and Peter. Sure the Indian Celebration does advance Wendy’s growth toward Adulthood, but not only was this already made clear by the Mermaid scene and would be made clear again later in the film, but there are better ways to advance it than this unfunny sequence.

Overall, I feel that Neverland is a bit underused. Obviously, they are working with the source material, but I felt that for as strong as the characters are, the world around them sort of fails in comparison. Again, it’s still a good world, but certain aspects of the world, especially the Pirates, could have been used more and been more explored. This could have added even more to the stories of Hook, Peter, and Wendy.

And for all the great characters, there are some that could be seen more. The Lost Boys are among them. I wish we could have seen a bit more with them and Wendy, and really building up Wendy’s feelings of motherhood. It’s well done as it is, but I still feel there is too little interaction between the characters. The most we get of the Lost Boys is their interactions with the Indians, which of course is the weakest part of the film. Their best section is the final battle with the pirates, but that comes much too late in the film. The same could be said about John and Michael, though the opening of the film allows for much more fun for their characters.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Film’s Best Song is “You Can Fly.” It’s the film’s most classic sequence, and has great visuals of London and the flying children. There’s a reason it was a major inspiration for the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction at various Disney Parks around the world.

There are so many great sequences in Peter Pan, but I feel the cave sequence is the absolute best of the group. It shows the film’s great use of character as well as it’s humor and action. Overall a classic sequence.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Peter Pan has a huge multitude of strong characters that propel the film into the Top 20. Wendy, Peter, Tinker Bell, and Hook are all extremely fun to watch both individually, and alongside each other, and these character lead the film towards some great humor. However, the film suffers a bit from some unfunny sections in Neverland that ultimately place the film at 18.