Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse #11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

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There is an audio version of this review HERE

***

And so it is that the Unshaved Mouse comes to the last of the package films. 

Really internet? You couldn’t find me a picture of a happier mouse? This is not doing my joy justice.

Okay, that’s not exactly fair. Believe it or not, I don’t hate the Never Heard of ‘Ems. In fact, I really enjoyed most of them. It was just a nightmare to review these things.

Yes. Nightmare is the correct word.

Anyway, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad. This is pretty much identical in nature to Fun and Fancy Free, two ideas for full length animated movies that ended up being condensed and released as a single feature. This would close out the forties for Disney, a decade marked by incredible achievements (Bambi, Pinocchio, Fantasia) and a desperate and sometimes ugly struggle to keep the studio from going under (pretty much everything else). The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad begins with the opening credits…and…is he there?…could it be?…YES!

THOR PUTNAM!

We also get quite possibly the laziest, most uninspired theme song of any Disney movie I’ve covered so far. It’s not the tune so much, which is fine. It’s the lyrics. Look at this

Ichabod and Mr Toad

Ichabod and Mr Toad

(Babababababa-boo-boo-boo)

Ichabod and Mr Toad

Ichabod! Ichabod! Ichabod!

Ichabod and Mr Toad.

That’s fuckin’ beautiful, man.

Seriously, who wrote that? Who was given the job of writing a song for a professional goddamn production and thought it was okay to set the title of the movie to music, insert some baby talk and call it a day? 

No listing on IMDB, eh? FACE ME, COWARD!

Anyway, the movie begins in a library where we are introduced to our first narrator, Basil Rathbone.

You understand of course that if we make love it shall be entirely on my terms?

Rathbone asks us if we had to pick the most “fabulous” character in English literature, who would it be? He lists off a few candidates; Robin Hood…

King Arthur…

Sherlock Holmes…

Becky Sharp…

 

And Oliver Twist.

 

Rathbone however, dismisses all of these and instead settles on “J Thaddeus Toad” from The Wind in the Willows. Hm. That’s odd. I read The Wind in the Willows and I don’t remember any J Thaddeus Toad. There was Toad, of course. I wonder if this J Thaddeus Toad is any relation?

Okay, okay. That’s just me being pedantic, but it does bug me that they gave him a new name for no readily apparent reason. Anyway, moving on. Basil the Great Mouse Narrator explains that Toad is an amphibian of no little means, constantly splurging on new fashions and hobbies. Basil says that Toad has plenty of hangers-on but only three real friends. The first is Angus McBadger…

Hm. That’s odd. I don’t remember any “Angus McBadger” in The Wind in the Willows. There was BADGER of course…

Fine, fine. Okay. Badger is now Angus McBadger and is now Scottish for obvious reasons.

Because…Badgers. Scotland. You know, the whole connection there.

Then there’s Ratty. In the book Ratty is a free spirited rebel, a wanderer along the byways of the river and worshipper of the pagan god Pan.

Wow. It’s like he’s leapt from the page and onto the screen.

So Disney, you’ve renamed two characters, changed the nationality of one, completely inverted the personality of another…what’s next? You going to make Mole a vampire?

What’s this? A faithful depiction of the character? Why Mr Disney, you’re spoiling us!

Ratty and Mole are summoned to Toad Hall by Angus (grrrr) who’s taken over Toad’s financial affairs. Toad’s latest fad is racing around the countryside in a caravan and McBadger is struggling to keep up with payments for all the damage he’s causing.

A smashed chicken coop? A wrecked police cruiser?! I’ve had it with your renegade ways Toad, you’re a loose cannon!

McBadger orders Ratty and Mole to talk some sense into Toad. Now, I’m starting to get a little dubious about this whole idea that Ratty, Mole and McBadger are the only friends who have Toad’s interests at heart. You see, the narration makes clear that what worries them most is not that Toad will go bankrupt, but that he’ll lose Toad Hall, which Rathbone tells us is the finest home in the area and basically classes the whole joint up. It comes across that they’re less concerned that their friend will be destitute than that his mansion might be bought by people of lower class or -heaven forfend!-Americans.

Anyway, they go off to find him and we are introduced to Toad via the song We’re Merrily On Our Way. This is a great little ditty, where Toad and his horse Cyril Longbottom sing about all the places that they’re going to visit. The horse in the original story is a very minor character but here he’s been elevated to the status of Toad’s comedy cockney sidekick.

And…dammit if he doesn’t look familiar somehow.

Excuse me sir, Mister Longbottom is it?

Aye sir, that’s me, Cyril Longbottom. A bit of a rotter, a bit of a trotter.

Oh that’s very good sir, very good sir. Very droll. I was wondering if you’d mind taking a look at this photograph? If it’s not too much trouble?

“You ever seen this horse before, sir?”
“Can’t says I have Guv’nor.”

Well he’s named Widowmaker. Unusual name, isn’t it? I’m afraid he’s wanted for the murder of a lady named Slue Foot Sue, in Texas. Very sad case.

Ee bai gum! That’s ‘orrible so it is.

Couldn’t have put it better myself, sir. Now, we have reason to believe he may have fled here to England to avoid capture.

You don’t say?

Probably dyed his fur. Took to wearing a hat. Maybe even adopted an accent to try and fit in with the locals.

Horrors! What a thought!

Well. I’m sure he’ll turn up. You will keep an eye out for him, won’t you sir? Good day.

Ratty and Mole try to convince Toad to give up his caravan, but he gallops off. Then he and Cyril almost get hit by a car and Toad suddenly has a new mania…

HULKMANIA!!!!!

No, he has come down with a case of “motormania” and has become obsessed with the idea of owning a car.

Oh yeah. He’s been to Bahia.

Ratty and Mole have no choice but to lock Toad in his room and force him to go cold turkey, but Toad escapes and the next day’s headlines reveal that he’s been arrested for stealing a car.

“YOU IDIOTS! The gunfight outside Buckingham fucking Palace is supposed to be the TOP STORY! Not some frog stealing a fucking car!”
“Sorry chief.”

We then cut to Toad’s trial, where his friends are called to testify against him and Toad mounts his own defence.

In the criminal justice system, toads are represented by two separate yet equally important groups…

Toad calls Cyril to the stand (oh yeah, I’ll bet he’s comfortable being in a courtroom) and Cyril tells the court that Toad didn’t steal the car, but traded some weasels for it and gave them the deed to Toad Hall in exchange. The prosecutor doesn’t believe him, so Toad calls Mr Winkie to the stand. Winkie is the bartender who Toad had witness his signing of the deed over to the weasels.

Look at that mustachioed bastard.

Toad, thinking this thing is basically in the bag, asks Winkie to confirm his story. Instead, Winkie tells the court that Toad tried to sell him the stolen car. Toad is shocked that Winkie has betrayed him…

The Unshaved Mouse has a…not…entirely…dissimilar problem.

…and Toad is thrown in jail. Months pass, and at Christmas we see Toad alone in his cell in the tower of London, miserably recalling his wasted life. He stares at a pool of water on the cell floor, and sees the faces of his friends.

Toad. You have forgotten me. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.

The jailer then comes in and tells Toad that he can have a visitor since it’s Christmas (he only gets visitors at Christmas? He stole a car for crissakes!) and that his grandmother is here to see him.

Grandmother” turns out to be Cyril in disguise.

The six inch tall toad has an eight foot tall grandmother? Seems legit.

Cyril gives Toad a washerwoman’s disguise to allow him to escape, and Toad makes a break for it.

Right, now time to get out of here.

Ah Mr Longbottom, how nice to see you again. What a very pretty frock.

Oh. ‘Allo again.

I’m very glad I ran into you. You see, last time we met, you left one of your horseshoes behind. I’ve been meaning to return it to you.

Oh. Ta very much.

They’re supposed to be lucky, aren’t they sir? Sure would be a shame if your luck ran out. Well, I’ll be on my way. Goodbye sir.

Ta-ra guvnor.

Bumbling fool.

Oh eh, there’s just one more thing. I took the liberty of comparing your shoe with those worn by Widowmaker. The murderer I’m chasing, you recall sir? I’m afraid they’re a perfect match.


I see.

Yeah. It’s fortunate, isn’t it sir, that we met in a jail? It’ll save us both a trip.

Well played, Lieutenant. Well played.

Thank you, sir.

When Toad is discovered to be missing, the police raise the alarm and wake all of London with sirens, release dogs to track him and mobilise the entire force.

Guys.

He stole. A frickin. CAR! Why are you acting like he’s a combination of Hannibal Lecter and Magneto?

Toad manages to get to the train station and steal a train, and the police follow after him, shooting wildly.

Shit yo. Five-Oh playin’ for keeps.

Toad jumps into the lake and, because he’s wearing a leg iron, sinks to the bottom. As he desperately struggles to reach the surface, we pan away to Mole and Rat praying over Christmas dinner.

Oh Mighty Pan, shower your blessings upon our hunting and our lovemaking.

They are interrupted when Toad appears in the doorway, having escaped from the lake by…by…um…

He…um…

He was saved by Mr Flippers.

Yes, I made a Cleveland Show reference. No, I am not proud.

There’s a frantic knocking at the door and Toad begs Ratty to hide him but Ratty refuses because Toad has to pay his debt to society.

You fucking nark.

But it’s not the police. McBadger bursts in and tells them that the weasels have taken over Toad Hall and the Winkie is their leader. He also says that Winkie has the deed to Toad Hall. Now you may be thinking that, since Winkie told the court he doesn’t have the deed, he can’t use the deed to legally claim ownership of Toad Hall, since doing so would prove Toad’s innocence. So, how does having the deed benefit him in any way? Well, if you’re wondering that then you were paying attention. And the penalty is torture!

No, sister. Leave enough time for them to feel the last lash before giving the next.

Angus tells them that they Toad has to the get the deed back to prove his innocence and…no. No, that doesn’t prove Toad’s innocence. Winkie having the deed proves Toad’s innocence, Toad having the deed makes sense if he just stole the car…

Arrrrggghhh. Okay. Fine. They’re going to Toad Hall, to get the deed from Winkie, to prove Toad’s innocence.

“Then we get to work on proving him innocent of breaking out of jail, resisting arrest, transvestism and stealing a train.” “How?” “We LIE.”

They sneak into the grounds of Toad Hall by boat and are almost spotted by the weasel sentry. Toad then pulls out a frickin’ shotgun and tries to shoot him.  

You ever dance with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight?

They stop Toad and manage to get into the manor house undetected. They see Winkie in the middle of a pile of sleeping drunken weasels with the deed tucked into his shirt.

The lower Mole down carefully over the sleeping Winkie so that he can snatch the deed without waking him up.

“Moley! Stop whistling the “Mission Impossible” theme!”
“Sorry.”

Mole manages to grab the deed but just then the sentry who Toad almost shot comes in, sees what’s going on and raises the alarm. The weasels chase Mole and he runs down a corridor only to have it smash because it’s actually only a mirror. But hang on, that doesn’t make any sense. As Mole was running towards the mirror he should have seen his reflection. The only way he wouldn’t see his reflection is if…OH GODAMMIT DISNEY, YOU MADE MOLE A VAMPIRE!

What? Everyone else is making money off this Twilight shit.

The sequence where the four friends and the weasels try to grab the deed is pretty fantastic, with plenty of energy and good gags as the piece of paper changes hands from one side to the other and back again. In fact it’s so good that elements of it were reanimated over for quite a few of the, shall we say, more cash strapped movies that came later. My only real quibble is that almost all the action is taken up by Mole and Toad. Ratty gets very little to do, and McBadger gets almost nothing at all. In the middle of a giant battle with the weasels, Badger does nothing. Let me show you how Badger deals with weasels in another version of Wind in the Willows.

Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

“Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.”

“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers.”

And you will know I am the LORD when I lay My vengeance upon you!”

THAT’S Badger, okay? A savage force of violence who is permanently enraged because there are a few hours in every day when he is not murdering weasels with his bare hands and that burns him up inside. This guy?

Och I’d like to help, but me hip’s acting up…

Anyway they get the deed back and the movie ends with Ratty, Mole and McBadger celebrating in Toad Hall. Toad has apparently now cleaned up his act, so the three friends drink a toast to the new year and “the new Toad.” Then there’s a huge crash and they look out the window to see Toad and Cyril flying through the air on his new biplane. Toad waves at them…

Help me you fools! He’s forcing me to fly him to Mexico!

…and flies off into the sunset.

Basil Rathbone then passes the narrating baton to Bing Crosby who’ll be our storyteller for the second part of the movie, The Legend of Ichabod Crane. Bing doesn’t have Rathbone’s comic chops or dry delivery, but he’s got a hell of set of pipes and he uses them well in this segment, both singing and speaking. But I can’t help wishing that David Bowie would come in to do supporting narration with him. Ah well.

Bing introduces us to Ichabod Crane, a lanky itinerant school teacher as he arrives in the village of Sleepy Hollow. We also meet Brom Bones, leader of the village’s young men and pretty much the biggest swingin’ dick in the place.

No one’s been like Brom Bones
A king pin like Brom Bones
No one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like Brom Bones!

Despite looking like a bald stork, Ichabod soon establishes himself as something of a playa, with all the women in town fawning over him. He even manages to turn the head of Katrina, the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest farmer in the village. This enrages Brom Bones, who’s in love with Katrina and isn’t that always the way? The popular, handsome jock losing the girl to the weird-looking nerdy guy with the muscle tone of an anorexic whippet?

See this Brom? It’s the world’s smallest violin, playing just for you.

Okay, it is actually a little weird that Ichabod does so well with the ladies, especially since the movie goes out of its way to show that he’s really not that nice a guy. He steals food, uses people, and even his fantasies of marrying Katrina seem more focused on inheriting her father’s wealth than any real feelings for her. But then, given what happens to him, it’s probably best that he’s not too sympathetic.

There’s a party in the village and Brom tries desperately to get some time alone with Katrina, but Ichabod always manages to outfox him. Finally, Brom decides to use Ichabod’s only weakness against him, the fact that he’s very superstitious. Brom (voiced by Bing) sings “The Headless Horseman”, a brilliant song that takes the story of a rampaging headless spectral abomination decapitating people in the dead of night and sets it to a beat you can really dance to. He does this in hopes of scaring Ichabod senseless.

It may have worked.

The remainder of the film is just Ichabod’s journey home through the forest. This scene really demonstrates just how damn good Disney was at doing horror. Even in this, a movie that is certainly not showing the studio at the peak of its creative or financial resources, Disney manages to create a real sense of dread as the forest closes in around Ichabod and the moon is occluded by clouds that look disturbingly like hands. As Ichabod’s unease increases, every sound and shadow becomes a source of terror.

And then…

Ah. There’s that good old-timey Disney terror.

Two elements make the Horseman so effective as a villain. One, obviously is the design. And the second is the laugh. This guy has maniacal evil cackling that Dick Cheney could be proud of.

There follows a terrific, breakneck chase through the forest with Ichabod trying desperately to cross the river to safety before the ghost kills him. Ichabod crosses the bridge and turns to see a flaming pumpkin flying right towards and wait just a damn minute here!

Oh my God. Burton, you whore!

The movie ends with Bing telling us that Ichabod was never seen again. While the townspeople hear rumours that he’s married a wealthy widow and raising a family in a different part of the country, they choose to believe that he was killed by a headless undead equestrian enthusiast because they’re people of logic, dammit.

Probably best to leave this mystery to the experts.

SCORING

Animation: 08/20

I’ve got to be honest, the animation in both segments is quite poor, even below the standard seen in the other package films. There’s continuity errors galore, with the animators frequently forgetting what colour Ichabod’s eyes are supposed to be. But it does make up for it with some very appealing character design.

The Leads: 13/20

I love Toad, but Ichabod is…I dunno. He seems like a bit of a mish-mash of various traits that don’t really seem to go together.

The Villain: 16/20

I think you could make an argument for the Headless Horseman being one of the scariest Disney villains of all.

Supporting Characters: 14/20

Both narrators do an excellent job. Cyril is fun, but Ratty and McBadger both got on my nerves for the reasons I’ve already gone into.

Music: 14/20

The Headless Horseman, We’re Merrily on our Way…some minor classics here.

FINAL SCORE: 65%

NEXT WEEK: We close the door on the Never Heard of ‘Ems, and move into the next era of Disney movies: The Restoration. Cinderella is next.

Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. You can follow him on Twitter. The blog updates every Thursday. Thanks for reading!

11 comments

  1. Thank you for these reviews! I haven’t seen half of these movies, but I really love your comments and have looked up a few on old VHS tapes. So thanks!

    Now I have a question after Mr. Toad. I remember watching this one when I was a child, and suddenly another Disney short popped up in my head. Perhaps, oh whiskered mouse, you know where it comes from, where it originally featured and when it was made. I don’t know the title but it was about toys that had been abandoned on a garbage pile, somewhere, and there is some pretty heavy nightmare fuel with a doll without eyes, etc. The protagonist is, if I remember correctly, a toy soldier or maybe a wind-up guard doll. In the end, they stuff an empty doll, give the girl eyes, sew up the bodies of other toys, find paints to freshen them all up, and them merrily walk off to a home where they will be loved again: the orphanage. Is this also from one of those many-in-one movies?

    Anyway, cheers!

      1. Shame he didn’t mention Scarlett O’Hara instead of Becky Sharp…more people would’ve recognized Scarlett. It also would have been a subtle nod to the fact that Rathbone was actually considered for Rhett Butler…which would have made ALL of GWTW’s four leads British actors.

        (I don’t know if he’d have pulled it off, though. He could do suave and debonair, but lacked that devil-may-care quality we saw in Gable.)

        Anyway, I’m surprised you didn’t make any passing mention of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (sadly defunct at WDW, but still going strong at Disneyland).

  2. Phew, Never Heard of ‘Ems over! It’s a good thing too, I was getting worried seeing references to McFarlane spinoffs.

    Yeah, I think this one was on the forgettable side. I do remember it, but it was mostly just ok. The most memorable production of Wind in the Willows for me was the live action movie with all those Monty Python guys in it which my two-year-old sister and four-year-old self could only get through the first few scenes of before our auntie had to remove us from the theatre sobbing in terror (the mole’s burrow getting demolished by steamshovels was our limit).

    I liked your list of later Disney portrayals of all the literary characters Rathbone mentioned. I somehow can’t help but picture some aggressive feminist taking the sole female character mentioned not having a Disney version as a further sign of the studio’s blatant misogyny. Though Disney always could just make a movie spin on Vanity fair. Hmm, I wonder what that would be like.

    Also, Columbo references! One of my favourite things about how you review is the off-the-wall cracks you make at certain things. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make jokes on character design recycling quite like that, and this was just hilarious. The lampshade hanging of the seemingly much more newsworthy story not making the headline also made me laugh. Loved the throwbacks to Renaissance movies too.

    Man, those guys sure were thorough about capturing an automobile thief. I wonder if the car belonged to some famous athlete or something. Unless… Toad’s real offence was the criminal act of DUIoB, Driving Under Influence of Bahia! Just look at that face when he sees the car! I bet that could cost more lives than any tugboat shenanigans!

    …Mexico do you say? Isn’t “Mexico” basically the Disney version of “France” what with the Crimson Cockerel and all? Y’know, from what I’ve seen of a certain talking-animal-starring Nintendo title, I did always think the flying machine obsession stuck with Mr. Toad for quite a long time. Though I guess Widowmaker made well his getaway, poor Columbo lost his expert mystery solving title to Scooby Doo. Ouch.

  3. Sorry but in the Ichbod Part. I disagree with the fact Crane is a gold digger. You have to remember teachers weren’t paid very much in those days. And also people were prejduice against him since he was like one of the few remaing British people in the area being settled by Dutch. Most male teachers who tried to teach went on to other callings like a Pastor or a lawyer. There’s a reason in the 1830s unmarried women got to be teachers.

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