Due to various circumstances brought on by World War II, Disney would forego producing full-length animated features between the years of 1942 and 1949 and go on to make six multi-narrative “package films.” The last of these was The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Loosely tied together by the dueling, nationalistic narrations from Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, the respective Adventures are completely separate stories occurring nearly a century apart and on opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean. If there is a common thread however, it might be that J. Thaddeus Toad and Ichabod Crane make up two of the most flawed “heroes” to ever star in a Disney Animated Feature.
In Mr. Toad, the word “mania” is bandied about quite liberally in regards to Toad's intense obsessions. His uncontrollable proclivities for gypsy carts, motorcars and escape would trigger a downward spiral which result in him disappointing his loyal friends, losing his prestigious home and receiving a twenty year prison sentence – he truly was “a menace to society.”
At the turn of the twentieth century in the pastoral Thames Valley, Toad's issues could be passed off as mere “mania” but, through a more modern lens, it seems apparent that poor Toady is suffering through an elevated bout of psychosis and/or the extreme highs associated with bi-polar disorder which may or may not be intensified through the use of a foreign substance (Toad is seen gleefully inhaling both the exhaust from a motorcar's tail pipe and the steam from a locomotive's smokestack during two separate episodes of mania). And, while Toad has a decidedly poor influence in his good-time-buddy and enabler Cyril Proudbottom, he is more often surrounded by a tight-knit group of supportive friends in Mole, Rat and Angus MacBadger who naively believe the way to rid Toad of his mania is to “lock the poor chap in his chamber and keep him there until the poison worked out of his system.” Unfortunately, neither this, his short-termed prison sentence, his exoneration or his retirement to Toad Hall did much to relieve Toad of his demons as the picture ends with a “new Toad, completely reformed” once again pairing up with ne'er-do-well Cyril and becoming manic for yet another mode of transportation - biplanes.
With Ichabod Crane, it's easy to see why the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, particularly the women, would be charmed by this “itinerant” schoolmaster. Sure, ol' Icky has a “funny frame,” feet resembling “shovels” and “clothes a scarecrow would hate to own” but with his crooning baritone and fancy dance moves, he would establish himself among the ranks of Adam Duritz as the unlikeliest of ladies' men. However, obscure nineties references aside, Ichabod was not what he seemed and Brom Bones was on to something when he first referred to him as a “spook of spooks.” But, nay, I say he's the creep of creeps – even creepier than the *gasp* Headless Horseman!
Ichabod Crane is a man of insatiable appetites and shameless ambition not befitting of Colonial America's humble and noble beginnings. As the town's schoolmaster, Crane should be among the most trusted pillars of society but instead he abuses his post by rummaging through his pupils' lunches in order to sniff out whose mothers are the best cooks. But this was only the beginning of his gluttonous, free-loading ways as he'd soon find his datebook filled with four-course-dinner-dates every night of the week – taking full advantage of Sleepy Hollow's loneliest of spinsters. If Icky's appetite was satiated, his ambition wasn't as he'd soon set his sights on the town's wealthiest Dutch debutante: Katrina Van Tassel. Even as comely and coquette as she is, Ichabod couldn't care less as he was much more smitten with her father's aflluent farm. The creep even went so far as to daydream of the elderly Baltus Van Tassel's demise and the subsequent bequeathment to follow. That's why you can never trust a chinless man in a ponytail because he just might be more interested in his future father-in-law's booty than that of his betrothed... again, what a creep!
Maybe it was the cynicism and exhaustion resulting from a long and bloody war that led to Disney giving us a bi-polar junky and a gold-digging glutton as our protagonists. Sure, Mr. Toad did have his virtues and was more of a victim due to an undiagnosed sickness but Ichabod Crane was a true wolf in sheep's clothing. And, while both should've been scared straight, whether it be through prison or the supernatural, neither would take advantage of their opportunity to learn from previous poor behaviour as Toady would move on to the next mania and Icky onto another woman of means. It looks like these two previously-thought-to-be-unrelated yarns have more in common than we thought!
On a more whimsical note...
The six other “package films” Disney released during the war: Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Amigos (1942), Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and Melody Time (1948).
Among the characters referenced by Basil Rathbone during the movie's introduction are Robin Hood, King Arthur, Becky Sharp, Sherlock Holmes and Oliver Twist. All but one would be the subjects for future Disney Animated Classics.
You may notice that Rat and Mole evoke Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
As a childlike, rich British playboy who has a penchant for reckless adventure and the weakness for drugs/alcohol, Mr. Toad may have been an inspiration for Dudley Moore's Arthur (1981).
If you've seen the Disney short Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), you might recognize Mr. Toad as Fezzywig, Rat and Mole as collectors for the poor, Cyril Longbottom as Fred's horse and the Weasels as grave diggers.
In the early 20th century, Toad Hall was worth 100,000 pounds which probably comes out to a bazillion US dollars in 2012.
Toady received a twenty year prison sentence for motorcar theft.
The weasels would also feature prominently as Judge Doom's henchman in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
When the narrator mentions “christian charity” in regards to Toad and Rat, it not only foreshadowed their role in the aforementioned Christmas Carol but might also be the only outright religious reference in a Disney Animated Classic.
Among the American characters Bing Crosby mentions during Ichabod Crane's introduction were Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, Black Bart, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
Brom Bones' coonskin cap even predates that of Davy Crockett's! And, as the beer swillin' town tough, he seems to have been an inspiration for his French counterpart Gaston from Beauty and the Beast (1991).
If anything, Ichabod Crane provided an excellent showcase for the legendary Bing Crosby – he darn near crooned through the whole picture!
Katrina Van Tassel was VERY Dutch – she wore a Dutch Bonnet, her home was outfitted with a windmill, Dutch Doors and was even decorated with Dutch Plates. No word on whether or not her and Icky split the bill on the various dates during their courtship though.
We figure Brom Bones was the Headless Horseman in disguise, right?