Friday, March 23, 2012

1949 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad


Well, here we are at the end of the anthology age, and if sure has been a - wait for it - wild ride! Ah, comedy. I’ve actually enjoyed these more than I thought I would, though if you’ve been reading, you’ll know that’s still not much. Like the others, this is one with a complex history of development. The Mr. Toad segment was originally meant to be a full-length feature, to follow Bambi, but after 33 minutes were animated, wartime budget problems forced them to scrap the project. When they hit on the anthology idea, they decided to repurpose it as a short, paired with Mickey and the Beanstalk under the horrible title “Two Fabulous Characters”. The second segment likewise started as a feature, this time intended to be their return to feature animation. But again, after animating about half of it, they realized the story was too thin, so they just linked what they had and called it a short. This was in the before scripts, you see. Anxious to get to the good movies? So am I. So fry up some bubble and squeak, and let’s talk about The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.


Or The Adventures of Mr. Toad and Ichabod, apparently. In this story, insane fad addict (faddict?) Mr. Toad gets into the new craze of motorcars, and trades his home for one. When the person he traded to turns out to have scammed him and framed him for the theft of said car, he goes to prison, but breaks out and gets his home back. Despite the jail breaking, property damage, train hijacking, and assault on police officers, he’s let off scot free because he wasn’t guilty of the first thing. I can’t complain too much about that. In fact, it’s worse in the book, where he actually does steal the car, rather than attempting to buy it from the actual thief, a bartender and ethnic stereotype named Winky. In the book, Toad learns his lesson and becomes humble and contrite, but in the movie, he’s learned not a damn thing, which I like, because why should he? He just got away with everything.

No, I don't know what ethnicity, but this guy is definitely some kind of stereotype.
My sarcasm aside, I really liked this one. The decision to make it a short was the right one. After they took out the filler chapters (see ‘additional thoughts’) there’s not really a huge amount of story there. The length here gets the story out without padding it. They also beefed up the personalities of Toad and his friends, Rat, Badger, and Mole. My only regret about the length is that they didn’t get more development, because they’re all really likeable. Toad’s horse, Cyril, is a particular standout. No Goofy/Pluto nonsense here. He may be pulling a cart, but he’s as intelligent as the rest of them. He’s just an employee, and on his day off, he even walks on hind legs like everyone else. But he’s an eccentric, sarcastic delight, and the only one of Toad’s friends who encourages his manias.

That does bring up one thing that’s a little weird. The animals I’ve mentioned, and the weasels who work for Winky, are the only animals. Everyone else is a human, and the world is made to their scale. Which does lead one to wonder why they have a little toad sized ball-and-chain. I don’t know. It doesn’t bear much thinking about. This is a fun little cartoon with some great character animation and solid gags. Oh, and it’s narrated by Basil Rathbone, who is awesome.
He does not, however, get any clothing other than the hat.


Well, after Basil Rathbone, it would be hard for an American actor to live up, and since they go with Bing Crosby, they aren’t even trying. But I’ll get to that. The story is okay. There’s not a lot of plot here, so it’s well-suited to the short form. I’ve seen three full-length movies purporting to be based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and they’ve all been some degree of lousy. Considering the first ¾ of the book is basically “A superstitious guy comes to be a teacher,” expanded by Washington Irving with a great deal of sesquipedalian and loquacious verbiage that still remained flowtastical and entertainimatudinous. In long form, this requires either obscene padding, or, as in the Tim Burton version, just making up a whole new plot. Here, they are able to do it with some good sight gags and constant narration by Mumbles McGee.

Um... Mint?
I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I really hate Bing Crosby, smarmy crooner that he is. And he’s exactly the wrong choice to narrate this piece. This is a highly literary piece of classic Americana and it needs someone a little more professorial. Maybe Sterling Holloway again or something. And in addition to the narration, Bing plays both main characters, with absolutely no alteration in his voice, which doesn’t really suit either of them. Which is too bad, because the characters are quite well-done. Ichabod’s bizarre lanky body makes for very humorous animation, and they get a lot of humor from portraying him as a vain, cowardly, greedy opportunist. His romantic opponent, Brom, is a brawny, good-natured type, but also a blustering bully when he doesn‘t get his way. So the fact that they both sound like the same marble-mouthed Northwesterner tends to take away from it.

But once again, the issues I had with it are nothing in the grand scheme of things. The animation is again excellent, especially in the final sequence, where Ichabod is chased by the Headless Horseman. The short length works great for the pacing and plot, and unlike the Mr. Toad segment, the characters are fleshed out marvelously. And none of them are at all likeable, which was kind of a bold move. This is a cartoon about two jerks vying for the attention of a third jerk, and the jerkiest of them gets chased away by a ghost. A cliché? Perhaps.

Get your head out of there. You don't know where that head's been.


* The official Disney terminology for the anthology films is “package films”, but I don’t say that, because I’m a contrarian jerk, I guess.

* Each of the anthology films begins with a song over the opening that works the title into its lyrics. This time, it consists entirely of singers going “Ichabod and Mr. Toad!” over and over and over and over again. Erggggh.

* An object lesson in why Bing Crosby was wrong for this short: Follow this link to hear Bing nap his way through the feature song. Now follow this link to hear it performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, who is actually awesome. There, you see?

* In his opening narration, Rathbone lists some of the other fabulous characters of British literature, mentioning Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and King Arthur, all of whom were eventually the subjects of their own Disney features. COICIDENCE? Probably, since most of those were made after Walt died, and Basil also mentions Becky Sharp. I don’t see Disney making a Vanity Fair movie any time soon. But it would probably be awesome.

Why is this the image chosen for the first edition cover?  Read on and learn the deeply weird truth.

* It’s not often remembered that the Mr. Toad stuff comprises only about half of The Wind in the Willows, with a series of short stories about Ratty and Mole making up the rest. One such story is called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and is about the god Pan kidnapping and terrorizing Mole’s son, then erasing everyone’s memory. There’s a Pink Floyd album named after it.

* Badger has hands down the worst Scottish accent imaginable. I have to mention it, even though no mere text can do it injustice. Those of you that know me, just ask me to do it for you sometime. Everyone else… I don’t know, watch the movie. I already recommended it, didn’t I?

1 comment:

  1. Prosecutor: What is "the honest way"?
    Horse: I thought you wouldn't know that.