Disney Goes Postwar Scary
Ichabod and Mr. Toad for Fall Fun in '49
Probably the best 16mm reel I ever had of Disney's was a cut-down for student/libraries, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, twenty minutes as opposed to thirty-five or so that made up second half of 1949's theatrical release The Adventures Of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Idea at first was to call it Two Fabulous Characters, or some such, this another "package feature" that critics carped was mere cartoons strung together and symptomatic of Disney slipping (though better liked because there was less mix to annoy them). Fact was Walt fearing gamble of big-spenders like Bambi, Fantasia, Pinocchio ... red ink spillage of earlier that decade. Safer were hybrids like Song Of The South or So Dear To My Heart that combined animation with live action. Still, the outfit was about broke, Walt/Roy pondering merge with RKO that would have been finish to autonomy. 1949 shaped as all-or-nothing roll of dice to regain footing. As reported by Variety on 5/6/49, not only Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but Alice In Wonderland, Treasure Island, Hiawatha, and "40 percent completed" Cinderella, latter and Ichabod the only ones to actually get out that year (Cinderella rushed to make Christmas dates).
Ichabod and Mr. Toad was two stories, as in The Wind and The Willows and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Willows had been percolating as a feature since early in the 40's, then given up to packaging with failure to launch at long-length. A good decision that, for Mr. Toad's section drags, at least for me, at half-hour plus duration. Maybe I should read the source to better appreciate "satire" that was said to widen appeal of Wind/Toad beyond kids. Problem there, however, was same kids in 1949 getting fidgety in theatre seats, according to "Green Sheet" report from the MPAA, in concert with nationwide women's groups who judged new films for fitness to viewership, particularly youth. They did "Wiggle Test" on pics targeted to latter, and in case of Mr. Toad, "(kid's) attention twice dropped down to passive acceptance." Added to problem was fact "that many of the children did not understand the narration," as evidenced by "questions to each other during the screening." Trades agreed that Ichabod was livelier serve, Variety noting its "hoked-up version of the Sleepy Hollow legend" would appeal to "common clay" patronage.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow had long before cemented into American folklore. Everyone past diapers knew the story, most had read it by choice if not in school. Washington Irving, it seems, wrote the perfect short movie back in 1820. There was a silent version with Will Rogers a hundred years later (1922), and probably others I've overlooked. The short story's Public Domain status made it a cinch to adapt. Cartoons got aboard in 1934 (or before? --- again, there may be earlier animations unseen by me). Ub Iwerks, earlier associate to Disney, had branched off to do his own reels for distributing Pat Powers, The Headless Horseman dressed in limited hues of Cinecolor (Disney's use of Technicolor for cartoons during the period being exclusive). Iwerks' short was crude by comparison with Disney's re-do, in fact with cartoons Walt released in 1934, but it spun the tale briskly, and had gags the 1949 version would borrow. By then, of course, Iwerks was back employed at Disney's, and I wonder if he participated in creative way with Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The Headless Horseman is at You Tube and available on DVD as part of Thunderbean's Cartoons That Time Forgot series.
Variety said that Disney's Ichabod would "slay the Washington Irving purists," but I thought it hued close to the yarn, more so than most tries by
Disney wanted to explore TV as adjunct to selling, his conviction "that television has reached (a) stage where it's one of the most important sales mediums" (Variety: 8-18-49). Ichabod and Mr. Toad would mark the first occasion for Disney using video to promote a feature. The company prepared 20-30 second spots in addition to ones lasting a minute for broadcast in all markets, this a run-up to October 1949 release of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. RKO staffer and selling genius Terry Turner (of later King Kong reissue, Godzilla, Gorgo fame) was put in campaign charge. Trouble with bookings was Ichabod and Mr. Toad running short at 68 minutes, which meant doubling up with sometimes inappropriate co-features supplied by distributing RKO (Ingrid Bergman in Rossellini's