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Thursday Treasures

October 9, 2014

D23 Screening: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Review

By Justin J. Thaddeus Toa...er Smith

2014 has brought a lot of notable anniversaries for the Walt Disney Company. From the 55th anniversary of Sleeping Beauty, to the 50th Anniversary of Mary Poppins to even the 25th Anniversary of both The Little Mermaid and Disney Hollywood Studios, but one anniversary you may have overlooked, which occurred on October 5th, is the 65th Anniversary of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the delightful animated classic that was Disney's 11th full length animated film that combined the stories of Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows and Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

On September 13th, D23 decided to have a celebration of the film by screening it at the Walt Disney Studios lot. As someone who considers Mr. Toad my favorite Disney character, and considers Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to be in my top 3 favorite Disney attractions, I jumped at the chance to attend this screening, even going so far to update my D23 membership from the Free to Silver just to attend the event. It may not have been wisest decision financially, but I know its what Mr. Toad would've done. So in the spirit of him, I giddily purchased a ticket and began my ride that was merrily on its way to nowhere it particular.

Honestly, the real draw for me was seeing this underrated gem of a film on the big screen. The fact I was going to walk on the Disney Studios lot (which I had never done before) was icing on the cake. Even more exciting still was the fact that they were to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes of the making of the movie. Because there strangely isn't a lot known about the making of this movie. If one ever wanted to know how Walt Disney and his crew of artists brought Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio or Mary Poppins to life, there's endless amounts of stories, photos, audio-recordings, books, documentaries and even an entire bio-pic that explain the precise details of how those movies were made. For Ichabod and Mr. Toad though? If one just takes a look at their laserdisc, DVD, or even the newly released Blu-Ray they'll find no bonus features of any sort (besides a silly game). No commentary, no deleted scenes, no making-of documentary, not even a trailer. Absolutely nothing. Unusual even for Disney's "package features" of the 1940s, as Fun and Fancy Free, for instance, has a behind-the-scenes documentary that managed to appear when the movie came on VHS! The 2009 documentary Walt & El Group, informs one more about the making of Saludos Amgios and The Three Caballeros than one ever really needed to know. But Ichabod and Mr. Toad, despite its popularity with fans (most everyone agrees its the best of the "package features"), has very little that's known about its making, or perhaps more accurately: little that Disney actually releases about it making. So the fact Disney had this screening where they were going to share behind-the-scenes stories about the movie which included a choir performance from a song deleted from the film (a song was deleted from the film? Again, who could've known) made me particularly ecstatic.

The day was a nice sunny day for Burbank, CA. In fact, it was 104 degrees. I had no problem with the weather, in fact I loved the weather (10 years of Colorado will do that to you) but my fellow Californians weren't quite as overjoyed. Arriving at about 12:00 I was just amazed I was being allowed to park in the parking lot of the Disney studio (the parking garage was the Zorro parking garage as it was built on the part of the backlot where they shot Zorro many years ago). I got to see many of the iconic locations of the studio up close such as the Mickey Mouse water tower and "Pluto's Corner" where "Mickey Ave" and "Dopey Drive" intersect (the sign was built for the 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon and has remained ever since).

Walt Disney Studios

Disney studios

Disney Studios

Disney Studios

Once you signed it, they gave you four complimentary postcards!

D23 Postcards

D23 postcard

D23 Postcard

D23 postcard

I grabbed a seat and waited an hour. To pass the time they played Disney songs ranging from "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Be Our Guest," and "Friend Like Me," to "The Time of Your Life" and "If I Didn't Have You." They also showed stills from the movie and Disney-themed trivia (which I knew all the answers to).

D23 Mr. Toad

D23 Mr. Toad

D23 Ichabod

After all the waiting, Becky Cline (president of the Walt Disney Archives) welcomed us to the event. She made fun of the heat by saying "Close your eyes, we can see if your peaking, and just imagine that instead of a hot summer day, its a cool fall day with Halloween and Christmas right around the corner." She then went on to explain how both The Wind in The Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were both intended for feature-length films, but because of WWII, money was cut short and it was ultimately decided that both stories would work better as short films than feature-length movies. She explained that as The Wind in the Willows was being prepared for a feature-length movie, four songs were written for the film by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace (who worked on the music for Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi). They were "Merrily On Our Way To Nowhere it Particular" (which actually made it in the film), "The Wind In The Willows," "Four O'Clock Tea Time," and "The Bells of St. Mary." Finding the lyrics and melody for "The Bells Of St. Mary," they had the MeloD23 Singers (a volunteer choir consisting of studio employees) sing acapella complete with bells.

D23 choir

The song was fine. It sounded like a generic Christmas carol, but otherwise a fine song. I couldn't for the life me figure out why they couldn't record this for the Blu-Ray (not to mention be endlessly curious about the other two songs deleted) but it was still pleasant and fascinating experience none the less. The most interesting tidbet about the song is that the melody of the song actually can be heard in the movie during the scene Mr. Toad is in prison.

She then introduced Disney historian and author Mindy Johnson, who also is a film teacher in Valencia and an expert on Bing Crosy (she even contributed to the Bing Crosby edition of "American Masters" which will air on PBS in Dec. which will coincide with "White Christmas"'s 60th anniversary) who delivered a power point presentation called "Walt and Bing." While I snickered at first, thinking like it returning to college, it was pretty interesting even if the parallels between Walt and Bing weren't the strongest; the most interested comparison was how Bing was a driving force to build a sports complex in L.A. intended to rival Madison Square Gardens. While the project never actually came into fruition, it did show Bing was a big thinker, and was comparable to how Walt envisioned Disneyland. In addition to showing a clip of the Silly Symphony short Who Killed Cock Robin?, they did point out that Walt and Bing did eventually meet, even playing a clip of their first encounter with each other at a media event promoting Pinocchio on radio (and featured among the very few times you'll hear Walt actually singing!). Walt and Bing instantly bonded and became good friends (always fascinating when two larger than life figures from two different fields interact with one another). When The Adventures of Ichabod And Mr. Toad came out, the big selling point was in fact that Bing Crosby narrated the Ichabod segment. Even the tagline on the poster featured the tagline "Hear Bing Sing!" Only speaks to the power of Bing's star power as there was no bigger star at the time(heck "White Christmas" still holds the record for best-selling single worldwide). Ultimately, it would be the first and last collaboration between Walt and Bing. (Bing Crosby was originally supposed to star in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, but Walt passed away and the film got delayed to the point Crosby's schedule didn't work so Walter Brennan got cast instead).

Mr. Toad

Mr. Toad

The presentation also included moments such as featuring a clip of the actor who was the model for Ichabod Crane and gave a shout out to Don Lusk, the Disney animator who helped animate Ichabod and who is alive and approaching his 101st birthday. It was very neat to learn at least somebody who worked on the movie was still alive as we were about to enjoy the movie.

Finally, the movie started. It was, in fact, just the new Blu-Ray projected, as opposed to a 35mm print, which was fine by me only as I had yet to purchase and enjoy the Blu-Ray. I will say, as someone who has watched this movie countless times on VHS and DVD, I can certainly say the movie had never looked better. They clearly did a great restoration as all of the grain was gone, even the obnoxious purple holes in the film print that managed to remain on both the VHS and DVD was finally fixed. I even noticed a couple small details I never noticed before. The sound, on the other hand, was a tad awkward as the sound-effects/score actually overpowered the dialogue. As someone who's seen the movie a lot I didn't mind, but I did worry of anybody there who was seeing it for the first time. I couldn't but wonder what sound-system they were using as the average AMC theater has better sound(seems weird for a theater where directors and crews screen their own movies wouldn't have superior sound). It wouldn't surprised me if they added new sounds to this film to try to make the film adequate for 7.1. surround sound systems (there were several sounds throughout I don't recall ever being in the film). Despite this technical glitches, the audience seemed to enjoy it, laughing at the right moments and even applauded at the end (of both The Wind of the Willows segment and of the entire movie).

Animation building

Animation building

Disney studio 

After leaving, they allowed us to shop at the Studio Store for an hour, which sounded more fun than it was. For one, aside from the Blu-Ray, there were no items related to Ichabod and Mr. Toad (what I would do for a Mr. Toad shirt), and honestly, most of the stuff was things you would find at your local Disney store, a fairly big chuck of it exclusively for little kids. Not that I was expecting a 3-disc limited edition of Song of the South, but seeing how the screening was unanimously made of adults (there weren't more than two children there) it seemed weird they couldn't supply more adult related items. But most of the customers happily obliged and bought stuff clearly intended for younger relatives of theirs. I got a neat pin exclusive to the Disney Studios (I also couldn't help but notice the "Remembering Roy E. Disney" books they sold actually came autographed by the authors, which was neat).

Overall I'd be lying if I said there was no disappointments throughout in the event, but all in all my ride merrily on my way to nowhere in particular was still a fun adventure I'll cherish forever. What can I say? It showed me the world! Travel! Change! Excitement! Ha! Ha! Ha!

 

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