Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi & James Algar (1949)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a 1949 animated anthology film produced by Walt Disney Productions and directed by Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney and James Algar. It consists of two segments: the first based on the 1908 children’s novel The Wind in the Willows by British author Kenneth Grahame, and the second based on the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by American author Washington Irving.
The Wind in the Willows
This segment is based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame. The story is set in and around London, England, United Kingdom between June 10, 1907 and January 1, 1908. The protagonist J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. is introduced as an “incurable adventurer” who “never counted the cost”. As the story’s “one disturbing element”, although he is the wealthy proprietor of the Toad Hall estate, Toad’s adventures and “positive mania for fads” have brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. As a last resort, Toad’s friend Angus MacBadger volunteers as Toad’s bookkeeper to help Toad keep his estate which is a source of pride in the community.
One summer day, MacBadger asks Toad’s best friends Ratty and Moley to persuade Toad to give up his latest mania of recklessly driving about the countryside in a horse and gypsy cart, which could accumulate a great deal of financial liability in damaged property. Ratty and Moley confront Toad, but are unable to change his mind. Toad then sees a motor car for the first time and becomes entranced by the new machine, having been taken over by “motor-mania”.
To cure Toad’s new mania, Ratty and Moley put Toad under house arrest. However, Toad escapes and is later arrested and charged with car theft. At his trial, Toad represents himself and calls his horse Cyril Proudbottom as his first witness. Cyril testifies that the car which Toad was accused of stealing had already been stolen by a gang of weasels. Toad had entered a tavern where the car was parked and offered to buy the car from the weasels. However, since Toad had no money, he instead offered to trade Toad Hall for the car. The prosecutor and judge show disbelief toward the statement, so Toad then calls the bartender Mr. Winky as a witness to the agreement; however, when told by Toad to explain what actually happened, Mr. Winky claims instead that Toad had tried to sell him the stolen car. Toad is found guilty on the spot and sentenced to 20 years in the Tower of London. As the months passed by, Toad’s friends make every effort to appeal his case, but to no avail.
On Christmas Eve, Cyril visits Toad in disguise as his grandmother and helps him escape by giving him a disguise of his own. Toad quickly runs to a railway station and hijacks a steam locomotive and drives out of the station heading toward the river bank without getting caught by the police on another train, coming to Ratty and Moley’s house. Just then, MacBadger vists Ratty and Moley to tell them that he discovered that Mr. Winky is the leader of the weasel gang, and that Toad had indeed traded his estate for the stolen car; Mr. Winky himself is in possession of the deed. Knowing that Toad is still guilty in the eyes of the law and the deed bearing his and Mr. Winky’s signature would prove Toad’s innocence, the four friends sneak into Toad Hall and take the document after a grueling chase around the estate.
The film then ends on New Year’s Day with Toad exonerated and regaining his house while it is implied that Mr. Winky and the weasels have been arrested and imprisoned. As MacBadger, Ratty, and Moley celebrate the New Year with a toast to Toad, who they believe has completely reformed, Toad and Cyril recklessly fly past on a 1903 Wright Flyer; Toad has not truly reformed and has developed a mania for airplanes.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The second segment is based on the original story by Washington Irving. Although the film introduces the story as Ichabod Crane, later individual releases retained the story’s original title. (As a short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was originally published in The Sketch Book with other stories, not as a single volume as pictured in the film.)
In October 1790, Ichabod Crane, a lanky, superstitious yet charming dandy arrives in Sleepy Hollow, New York, a small village outside Tarrytown that is renowned for its ghostly hauntings, to be the town’s new schoolmaster. Despite his odd behavior, appearance, and effeminate mannerisms, Ichabod soon wins the hearts of the village’s women and forms good friendships with his students. Brom Bones, the roguish town hero, does his best to pull pranks to Ichabod. However, he is very good at ignoring these taunts and continues to interact with the townspeople. One day, Ichabod meets and falls in love with Katrina van Tassel, the beautiful daughter of the wealthy Baltus van Tassel and Brom’s unofficial fiancee. Despite being obsessed with Katrina’s beauty, Ichabod mainly desires to take her family’s money for himself. Brom, who has never been challenged like this, proceeds to compete with the schoolmaster, but Ichabod wins Katrina over at every opportunity. Unbeknownst to both men, Katrina is only using Ichabod to make Brom jealous and force him to try harder for her affections.
The two love rivals are invited to the van Tassel Halloween party. Brom attempts to get Ichabod to dance with a plump woman instead of Katrina, and later attempts to have him fall through a cellar door, but both attempts backfire. While both men dine, Brom catches Ichabod accidentally knocking the salt shaker over and nervously tossing salt over his shoulder. Discovering that Ichabod’s weakness is superstition, he decides to sing the tale of the legendary Headless Horseman. The horseman supposedly travels the woods on Halloween each year, searching for a living head to replace the one which he has lost, and the only way to escape the ghost is to cross a covered bridge. Everyone else, including Katrina, finds the song amusing, while Ichabod on the other hand starts to fear for his life.
Riding home from the party, Ichabod becomes frightened of every sound and sight which he hears in the dark woods. While traveling through the old cemetery, Ichabod believes he hears the sound of a horse galloping toward him, but discovers the sound is being made by nearby cattails bumping on a log. He and his horse begin to laugh – however, their laughter is cut short by the appearance of the Headless Horseman, wielding a sword and riding on the back of a black horse. After being chased through the dark forest, Ichabod, remembering Brom’s advice, rides across the covered bridge to stop the ghost’s pursuit. The horseman stops and throws his flaming head, revealed to be a jack-o’-lantern, right at Ichabod’s face.
The next morning, Ichabod’s hat is found at the bridge next to the shattered jack-o-lantern, but Ichabod himself is nowhere to be found. Sometime later, Brom takes Katrina as his wife. Rumors begin to spread that Ichabod is still alive, married to a wealthy widow in a distant county with children who all look like him. However, the superstitious people of Sleepy Hollow insist that he has been “spirited away” by the Headless Horseman.