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.
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, Mr. 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.
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.
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.