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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949)

The Disney ‘gap’ years of animation purgatory (with collected shorts of varying quality doing service as features) lasted from BAMBI/’42 to the post-war renewal of CINDERELLA/’50. But a path out of the slump was in plain sight the year before in this little two-fer. Bing Crosby sings & narrates the main event (note the poster billing), a scary Hallowe’en ride from Washington Irving’s ICHABOD CRANE, and it's very much in line with other well-made Disney ‘gap’ releases. But the real deal shows up in the opening segment, MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE, taken from Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic THE WIND AND THE WILLOWS (a kid’s book in rep only), featuring some of the best story & character animation seen at the studio in a decade. A riotous bit of anarchy about Toad’s serial manic enthusiasms, it’s got great gags; taut story construction; perfectly composed set pieces; a memorable gang of villainous weasels; loyal/lovable sidekicks; dizzying moments of gasp-inducing panic; even a moral for Toad to sabotage. Any wonder this little film inspired the best ever ‘C’ ticket ride at the original DisneyLand? (Still operating? Still landing in Hades?)

DOUBLE-BILL/READ ALL ABOUT IT: As mentioned, Grahame’s THE WIND AND THE WILLOWS is more Lake Country pastorale than kiddie book, you’ll wind up reading for your own enjoyment. Such writing! And check out Terry Jones’ labor of love full-length version (called MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE/’96 Stateside) made with Monty Pythoners & others.

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