Disney Film History: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Ichabod

After Snow White’s success in 1937, everyone was pitching stories to Walt Disney. Several films were put into production at once, but that was not to be for long. World War II, as we’ve talked about in previous articles, disrupted the feature length production. Films like Alice and Wonderland and Peter Pan were put on hold until further notice, while other films were segregated and turned into “Package Films” or films without a single narrative, but rather a collection of shorts. I was excited to begin the World War II era because Disney gave so much back to the world during that time. The Disney films were used as propaganda, a way to make peace with allies, and above all, bring a smile to those living in a time of war. As excited as I was, I’m glad we are leaving this era behind. Disney was able to find his way out of debt during the 1940s, through government funding and box office draws. Walt turned his failing company, with it’s strikes and debts, into a happy place without payments having to be made to the bank. Strangely enough, the film we are getting to today, the last of the “Package Films”, is actually quite grim. We are looking at The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. A film cut into two parts much like Fun and Fancy Free. Unlike that film, the two stories of how Sleepy Hollow and The Wind and the Willows came to be placed together intermingle. The film’s two shorts were smashed together unintentionally for the better. So how did this strange package film come to be? Well, let’s start with the first short of the film.

The first of the two shorts is that of Mr. Toad, based on Kenneth Graham’s Wind and the Willows. The famous novel from England really struck a chord with readers when it first came out in 1906. Remember that at the turn of the 20th century, automobiles were a thing of luxury, not necessity, and airplanes were impressive  and new to the public. Graham capatilized on the new obsession over these motorized vehicles and created a booke made of talking animals. Fast forward to 1938, after the success of Snow White, and we have animators in James Bodrero and Campbell Grant pitching the idea that Wind and the Willows should be the next Disney film. Due to the anthropomorphic characters (humanized animals) the film could only be done in animation and would be perfect for a Disney film. Walt Disney didn’t see the money in it. It was too cartoonish for his new realistic feature film division. The following June of 1939, he had a change of heart, put in for the rights to the book, and production started on a feature length film called The Wind and The Willows.

Ichabod 1

Due to World War II, animators were diminished and the film, a half hour already fully animated, was put on the shelf to be later picked up. As the idea of putting together package films came to be, Walt decided that the cartoon nature led Mr. Toad and friends to be part of that rather than demean his artistic full length films. He decided that the Wind and the Willows could be attached to Mickey and the Beanstalk as well as another film in the works, The Gremlins. Nothing came of the stories of the Gremlins and Mickey and Mr. Toad would go on to be packaged together as one film titled Two Fabulous Characters. This idea was then ditched and Mickey was paired with Bongo in Fun and Fancy Free, once again leaving The Wind and Willows on the shelf ultimately left to never be seen until luck might have it and it is paired in the late 1947 with another feature film in the works, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a thrilling tale from American history. Originally published in 1820 and undoubtedly Washington Irving’s most popular short essay, maybe next to Rip Van Winkle, the tale was harkening back to the folklore of Snow White and Pinocchio. Throughout the “Package Film” era, many of the tales told, outside of Mickey and the Beanstalk, were contemporary and not based on classic tales. Sleepy Hollow, not only American at heart, is also a folk tale many people had read or heard of. It was to be a crowning acheivement for Disney, combining realism, horror, and family friendliness. Unfortunately, the film, like the story, ran short and the decision to be made was if the film should be kept. It seemed wise, that during a time when many shorts were packaged together, Sleepy Hollow could also be part of that. Regardless of it’s length, animators and Walt alike wanted the film out there so they dusted off The Wind and the Willows project and decided to attach the two films together.

Ichabod 3

What had already been animated in the early part of the 1940s was kept in the Wind and Willows and areas of the film were either cut or not animated at all to keep the story from running too long. Too help boost this new film, dubbed The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, two well known personalities on the ’40s, were brought in to narrate and boost the credibility of the film.

Ichabod and Mr. Toad was released in October of 1949 and was a big hit with audiences. Released around Halloween time, the film fits the autumn weather as both tales end on a dark note, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is probably the most terrifying piece of animation up until that point. Despite Walt Disney’s lack luster appreciation for the film itself, it has proven over time to be a favorite amongst fans, especially those that saw this film during the Autumn months during it’s run on television and in home video. Out of the Package Films, this may be the most successful over time, and it will most likely continue to help profit the company in one way or the other. It’s inspired attractions at the parks, parade characters, restaurants, and merchandise that will keep the lovable characters alive. It won’t be seen as a historic piece of artisitc animation, but rather two shorts driven by wonderful story telling that only Disney can do. On top of that, it’s the end of an era for Disney. World War II is over, the 1950s are heading our way, and the debt once piled high had turned into profits for Walt Disney. What would he do with the money from Ichabod and Mr. Toad as well as the other package films? He’d spend it, and in a big way during the next decade. I’m looking foward to the 1950s and the big productions, both in animation and live action, thanks to the wonderful films of the 1940s like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Josh Taylor
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Posted on August 28, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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