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The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad & Fun & Fancy Free: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) movie poster The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Theatrical Release: October 5, 1949 / Running Time: 68 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, James Algar / Writers: Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows); Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Homer Brightman, Harry Reeves (story)

Voice Cast: Basil Rathbone (Narrator, "The Wind in the Willows"), Bing Crosby (Narrator & Characters, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"), Eric Blore (J. Thaddeus Toad), J. Pat O'Malley (Cyril Proudbottom), John McLeish/Ployardt (Prosecutor), Colin Campbell (Mole), Campbell Grant (Angus MacBadger), Claud Allister (Rat), The Rhythmaires (Singers), Alec Harford (Winkie - uncredited)

Songs: "Ichabod and Mr. Toad", "The Merrily Song", "Ichabod", "Katrina", "The Headless Horseman"
Fun and Fancy Free (1947) movie poster Fun & Fancy Free

Theatrical Release: September 27, 1947 / Running Time: 73 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske / Writers: Homer Brightman, Harry Reeves, Ted Sears, Lance Nolley, Eldon Dedini, Tom Oreb (story); Sinclair Lewis (original story "Bongo")

Cast: Edgar Bergen (Himself, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd), Dinah Shore (Narrator), Luana Patten (Herself), Anita Gordon (voice of Singing Harp), Cliff Edwards (voice of Jiminy Cricket), Billy Gilbert (voice of Willie the Giant), Clarence Nash (voice of Donald Duck, Cat), The King's Men (Singers), The Dinning Sisters (Singers), The Starlighters (Singers) / Uncredited: Walt Disney (voice of Mickey Mouse), Pinto Colvig (voice of Goofy), Candy Candido (voice of Lumpjaw)

Songs: "Fun and Fancy Free", "I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow", "Too Good to Be True", "Say It with a Slap", "Lazy Countryside", "My, What a Happy Day", "Fee Fi Fo Fum", "My Favorite Dream", "Eat Until I Die"

Buy The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad & Fun and Fancy Free 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD at Amazon.com

From 1942 to 1949, Walt Disney's animation studio made anthology films comprised of a number of varied segments. World War II had seen different U.S. departments enlisting the studio to create military training films and then to visit and make movies about South America and Latin America.
There was also Disney's need to restore profitability, with amazing works of art like Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi all failing to recoup their budgets after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had launched feature animation to great success. Package movies were less expensive and noticeably scaled back the great ambition displayed in the preceding efforts.

Nonetheless, ambition has always been a key ingredient to Disney's success and it crept back into the picture shortly before Cinderella marked a return to full-length narratives. Two of Disney's last anthology films, 1947's Fun & Fancy Free and 1949's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, are as segmented as any films included in the studio's now 53-deep feature canon, but they are also the most fully-realized and satisfying works of their era. The two unrelated films made their Blu-ray debuts together last week, sharing a BD and each getting a DVD in a three-disc 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

Mr. Toad represents himself in court, a tactic that doesn't pay off for him. On Christmas Eve, Cyril Proudbottom poses as Toad's grandmother to bust him out of prison.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the top-billed attraction here and a film given its own Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy release separately, divides a little over an hour between two long shorts adapted from literature. First, Basil Rathbone narrates the story of The Wind in the Willows, drawn from the Kenneth Grahame novel of the same name. It centers on J. Thaddeus Toad, an insatiable adventurer who spends heavily on thrills. Around the turn of the century, Mr. Toad develops a new mania, for motor cars. While the three friends that have his best interests at heart -- bookkeeper Angus MacBadger, Mole, and Rat -- put him on lockdown to get the idea out of his mind, Mr. Toad breaks out and returns in his very own motor car.

Toad is accused of stealing the car, put on trial, convicted, and given a long prison sentence after a bartender named Winkie disputes Toad's account that he traded Toad Hall, his expansive estate, to a bunch of weasels in exchange for the vehicle. On Christmas Eve, posing as Toad's grandmother, loyal horse Cyril Proudbottom busts Toad out of prison. With police on his trail, Toad reconnects with MacBadger, Mole, and Rat in an effort to clear his name. And rightfully so, for a visit to Toad Hall finds Winkie and the weasels living it up there!

Wealthy coquette Katrina Van Tassel sparks a romantic rivalry in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Bram Bones preys upon Ichabod Crane's superstitiousness with a Halloween party scary story.

After that charming and bouncy British tale,
Bing Crosby takes over to serve us a slice of classic American fiction with a musical telling of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Lanky, pointed-nosed schoolteacher Ichabod Crane (voiced, like everyone else in this half, by Crosby) arrives in Sleepy Hollow and becomes involved in various cultural outlets, like directing the ladies' choir. Ichabod welcomes and devours every home-cooked meal extended to him, but though he develops his share of female admirers, his affections are soon reserved for Ms. Katrina Van Tassel, the head-turning daughter of a wealthy farm owner.

Tickled by both the coquette's beauty and the financial security that comes with her, Ichabod is mostly oblivious of his extensive competition for Katrina's hand. His most formidable romantic rival: Bram Bones, the brawny leader of the Sleepy Hollow Boys who appears to be a direct ancestor to Beauty and the Beast's Gaston. Bram uses Ichabod's superstitious nature against him, planting seeds of fear in the teacher regarding the pumpkin-hurling Headless Horseman, whom Ichabod runs into in the arresting finale (Disney's only unhappy ending?) of this spooky and haunting yarn that crashes Amazon's bestsellers list around Halloweentime every year.

Lumped in with such forgettable, interchangeable films as Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, and Melody Time, Ichabod and Mr. Toad deserves more. My appreciation for this film grows with every viewing. Presently, I wouldn't hesitate to rank it among Disney's better works of the 1940s, behind Pinocchio and Bambi, but comparable to Dumbo, and as sacrilegious as this may sound, decidedly more watchable and enjoyable than Fantasia.

It is perfectly understandable how Ichabod failed to develop the reputation of a classic. Following initial release, its two halves were split and subsequently issued separately with different company. It wasn't until the early 1990s that Ichabod and Mr. Toad was restored and released as a feature film to laserdisc. Like practically all but Disney's best-selling animated features, the film turned up on DVD in the studio's Gold Classic Collection in 2000. Despite the perennial public interest in that DVD every autumn, the film is only now getting a new release, though one that is reasonably well-suited for the Halloween retail season that seems to begin earlier every year.

Our host, Jiminy Cricket, proclaims himself fun and fancy free, which may not be how you remember him from "Pinocchio." Escaped circus performer Bongo Bear has his heart melted and then broken in his animated segment of "Fun & Fancy Free."

Fun & Fancy Free is similarly made up of two animated shorts that run about half an hour each, though it adds a third layer in the form of some live-action bridging material. We open with Pinocchio conscience Jiminy Cricket suddenly informing us how fun and fancy free he is, something of a personality change for him from Pinocchio. He sneaks into some house where he finds "a deadpan doll and a droopy bear" and puts on a Dinah Shore record promising to tell us the story of three bears, but not the one with Goldilocks and the porridge.

This one involves Bongo Bear, a star circus performer who is privately unhappy, being worked hard and having no free time. He breaks free and makes his way into the forest, a place that requires some adjustment. His struggles in the wild seem to disappear when he meets Lulu, a pretty girl bear. But his relationship with her is complicated by the presence of that third bear, a bully, and by Bongo's ignorance of wild bears' romantic customs.

Then, Jiminy, seeing an invitation at that house, makes his way across the street to crash the world's weirdest party. It consists of popular middle-aged ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, his two most famous dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd (there's also a lady's face drawn on Bergen's hand), and Luana Patten, a girl of about 7 or 8 who had just appeared in Song of the South. While you may try to make sense of this evening shindig, which was big enough to warrant a printed invitation but not big enough to attract more than a single unaccompanied young girl, they turn our attentions to the film's second and final animated story, henceforth known as Mickey and the Beanstalk.

Weird: young Luana Patten alone attends a party hosted by Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy. Broke and hungry Goofy, Donald, and Mickey find themselves in the middle of a giant beanstalk.

In Happy Valley, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are broke and starving. Mickey decides to sell their cow for food, but the offscreen trade for magic beans is questioned by his housemates. Of course, in the night as these three sleep, an immense beanstalk grows around them and leads them up to the kingdom of Willie, a giant with shape-shifting powers and no shortage of food. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy help themselves to some grub while trying to avoid capture by Willie, whose theft of the magic singing harp has given Happy Valley the unhappiness of a drought. Bergen narrates the story, with McCarthy making some snarky remarks. We cut back to that curious party several times during the telling, a technique dropped in most subsequent presentations of this short.

It's been over ten years since I've seen the anthology films that came directly before and after Fun & Fancy Free, but I remember being almost as underwhelmed by them as by the Latin and South American goodwill tour films that preceded them. By comparison, Fun seems relatively fun, if not terribly memorable or cohesive, despite some attempts to unify these disparate segments.

Both films retain the RKO Radio Pictures logos with which they were originally released, narrowly predating the start of Disney's self-distribution.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad & Fun and Fancy Free 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Ichabod Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English), Dolby Mono 1.0 (Spanish)
Fun Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Ichabod DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Mono 1.0 (Spanish)
Fun DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled; DVDs Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 12, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $36.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Ichabod also available in individual Blu-ray combo pack ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video, previously released as Gold Collection DVD (October 3, 2000)
Fun still available as Gold Collection DVD (June 20, 2000) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disney's Blu-ray transfers of their animated features have almost always been terrific. The presentations of these two package films gladly add to that tradition. Each is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (unsurprisingly, no "Disney View" artwork has been created to fill in the vertical bars on the edges) and each looks great. Ichabod and Mr. Toad features very few minor imperfections. Its picture also gets a little jittery at times. Though not perfect, it's a lot closer than before; this presentation is significantly improved from the 2000 DVD.

Without having its DVD on hand or clearly in mind, I'll assume that Fun and Fancy Free offers similar gains. Its picture is unhindered by anything major. A couple of long shots seem short on detail, a shot of a cartoon newspaper exhibits some flicker, and it doesn't impress to the extent of other '40s Disney animated films. But for a nearly 70-year-old film that isn't so well-known or loved to look so good on a format that remains far less popular than DVD at its heyday is truly a treat.

Each film is also treated to a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, an upgrade from their monaural previous DVD presentations. Neither remix poses dramatic change. Channel separation remains minimal yet sufficient. The song and line recordings cannot hide their age. Volume levels in Fun fluctuate quite a bit, with Bergen's parts needing to be cranked up. There is not the clarity you find from the more popular Disney classics made shortly before and after these. Still, the effort seems genuine and the results are about as good as you can reasonably expect them to be.

On his self-guided tour of the Disney studio, Robert Benchley gets tackled by a skeleton in "The Reluctant Dragon." The photogenic Disney employee Doris (actually actress Frances Gifford) shows Benchley a painted cel from the upcoming "Bambi."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray only includes one bonus feature, but what a bonus it is. A sticker on the front cover and blurb on the back make you suspect you're getting the animated short The Reluctant Dragon.
Instead, you're getting the full-length feature film of the same name that introduced that cartoon. Presented in HD picture and Dolby Digital 1.0 sound (with a bonus Spanish dub, to boot), this 1941 film runs 1 hour, 13 minutes, and 36 seconds long. Like an early 1940s version of Disney Movie Surfers, this appears to be one of the first full-length films supplying a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking. And though it is clearly staged and scripted, that's just how publicity was handled back then.

Newspaper columnist turned film actor Robert Benchley plays himself, who opens the film shooting suction cup darts at duck figures in his pool while his wife (played by Nana Bryant) reads him Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon. She tells him he should pitch the story to Walt Disney for feature film treatment. The two arrive at the Disney studio and, though they don't have an appointment, Mr. Benchley has no trouble getting a pass to see Walt. The trouble comes in actually getting in to see Walt. Shaking off Humphrey (Buddy Pepper), the nerdy young studio guide giving a dry tour from his notepad, Benchley decides to poke around the studio by himself.

He encounters artists drawing elephants from a live model, watches Florence Gill and Clarence Nash recording an unusual duet as Clara Cluck and Donald Duck, and observes the recording of Dumbo's "Casey Junior" song in which people make train and boat noises. It's weird to see clips from that film in black and white, but right after it, Reluctant makes the jump to Technicolor, with Benchley taking much notice of that. The humorist is treated to a bird's eye view of the multiplane camera being used on Bambi and looks at the vibrant colors mixed together in the Rainbow Room, character maquettes, and cels of Donald Duck in which the duck demonstrates how he walks one frame at a time. After seeing Goofy drawn, Benchley gets to watch How to Ride a Horse, a short (not released on its own until 1950) in which Goofy inefficiently demonstrates mounting, jumping, and other equestrian techniques to narration. Storyboard men pitch Benchley on Baby Weems, the tale of a talking baby who becomes a national phenomenon.

By the time that Humphrey finally gets ahold of Benchley and hands him over to Walt Disney (who makes little more than a cameo), they are in a screening room about to start watching a finished animated adaptation of The Reluctant Dragon. It tells the story of a peaceful poet dragon and Sir Giles, the old knight and "dragon killer" who also fashions himself a poet. The dragon's friend, a boy, tries to prevent the deadly match his village is expecting.

All eyes and cameras are on Baby Weems, a talking infant, in this animator-pitched storyboard for an animated short. The Reluctant Dragon lives up to his title by preferring flute to fighting.

This documentary has immense value for the views it provides of the thriving Disney studio during its first Golden Age. By the time this film opened, animators had just started a nasty strike over salary disputes. Of course there is not the slightest hint of discontent here. As a product of the 1940s, Benchley's flirting with a pretty girl (actress Frances Gifford) supposedly recording Casey Junior's vocals and also handling art is almost obligatory. There's also a brief touch of ethnic caricature, though nothing too troubling.

You could easily argue that creativity was never again as rampant at Disney animation as it was in this time depicted. I'd prefer to think of this as a fitting companion piece to Waking Sleeping Beauty, Don Hahn's great 2010 documentary about the animation renaissance of the late '80s and early '90s.

Reluctant Dragon doesn't just function as promotion, genuinely entertaining with its comic bits. Even if the typical 21st century kid may be bored by it, what an inclusion this is and one otherwise not likely to appear on Blu-ray anytime soon.

Despite its bonus feature status, Reluctant Dragon still looks great and not merely for its considerable age. A few moments seem overly scrubbed, with faces lacking detail in long shots. But otherwise, this is incredibly vibrant, sharp, and clean for a film about to turn 75 and by far the oldest live-action Disney one to come to Blu-ray.

This Legend of Sleepy Hollow virtual storybook still accompanies The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, but only on DVD. Willie the Giant seems to doubt Leonard Maltin's credentials in "The Story Behind 'Fun and Fancy Free.'"

Ichabod and Mr. Toad gets a DVD exclusive in the form of a virtual storybook. It preserves the "have it read to you" version of the Gold Collection DVD feature, presenting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a 6-minute, 27-second illustrated read-along.

Fun & Fancy Free's DVD is similarly equipped with some unadvertised supplements. First up is the "The Story Behind Fun and Fancy Free" (14:57), a substantial making-of retrospective from 1997. It gives us insight into all three layers of the film, revealing the two animated segments were conceived as features and subsequently scaled back.
Interviews from animator Ward Kimball, longtime Disney story man Joe Grant, and Leonard Maltin shed light. This well-researched featurette even unearths a connection to Dumbo explored for Bongo, a deleted sequence from Beanstalk in which Mickey was to sell the cow to Minnie Mouse, and Billy Gilbert's test recording for Willie the giant. There's even a clip of Walt Disney voicing Mickey for an earlier short, something he would do for the last time in Fun. I'm really glad Disney retained this valuable item, even if only on the DVD.

Fun's DVD also includes a Mickey and the Beanstalk virtual storybook (11:11) in the same read-along format as the one on Ichabod.

As you could probably guess, The Reluctant Dragon is not found on either of these DVDs.

All three discs open with promos for Disney Movies Anywhere, Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition, and Legend of the Neverbeast, followed by the Pinocchio-themed anti-smoking PSA. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing runs ads for Disney Movie Rewards and Bears, before repeating some, all, or none of the disc-opening trailers.

WHAT'S MISSING?

It's tough to grumble about bonus features when Disney has unexpectedly trotted out an HD presentation of a third full-length feature here, but it must be noted that both Ichabod and Fun lose most of their DVD companions in the process. Ichabod misses its "The Merrily Song" sing-along, the 1937 Mickey, Donald, and Goofy short Lonesome Ghosts, and the trivia game Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (unrelated to the theme park ride), which offered the classic shortSusie the Little Blue Coupe as a reward to those who passed. It's also worth noting that this represents another missed opportunity to provide what Wikipedia describes as a 14-minute animated prologue on the life of author Washington Irving created to precede The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's pre-Halloween premiere on the second season of Walt's "Disneyland" anthology. It has never been released to home video.

Fun only loses a trivia game of its own.

One wishes that Disney could have simply recycled the Gold Collection DVDs or, better yet, only updated their feature presentations (to take advantage of the improved restorations) and sneak peeks (for their own sake).

The dubious bartender Winkie twirls his mustache on the new Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad DVD main menu. Jiminy Cricket is unfazed by the presence of Willie the Giant outside his window on the new Fun & Fancy Free DVD main menu.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray gives both Ichabod and Fun & Fancy Free their own animated menus, letting you pick one or the other from the spines of a book. Those menus, which are also adapted for DVD,
play clips in suitable settings, among a mantle holding the two books and Katrina's note in Ichabod and at an animation-only window that Jiminy Cricket looks out for Fun.

A pair of single-sheet inserts (promoting Disney Movie Club and supplying your Disney Movie Rewards code) accompany the three blandly-labeled discs (the DVDs are stacked) inside the side-snapped keepcase that's topped by a nicely embossed slipcover. Interestingly, this edition lacks the Digital HD Digital Copy that is included with Ichabod's standalone two-disc combo pack (which carries a list price $7 lower than this double triple feature).

The Headless Horseman comes riding for Ichabod Crane in the haunting finale of "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The two brightest spots among Disney's 1940s anthology films reach Blu-ray in highly satisfying fashion. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad increasingly strikes me as an undiscovered masterpiece, while Fun & Fancy Free lives up to its title and at least compares favorably to the other package movies of its time. The addition of an enjoyable third film (The Reluctant Dragon), a price tag not much higher than a single film's combo pack, outstanding restorations, and the retention of some DVD extras all make this a set that's easy to recommend to anyone and a must-have for fans of classic animation. Those in the latter class must be pleased that this set seems to pave the way for 2-Movie Collection combo packs for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros (already paired up on their current DVD) as well as Make Mine Music and Melody Time. There's very little else in the way of theatrical animation for Disney to bring to Blu-ray now.

Buy The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad & Fun and Fancy Free
2-Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD at Amazon.com

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Ichabod alone: Blu-ray Combo Pack New DVD Old DVD Instant Video
Fun and Fancy Free alone: DVD Instant Video

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Bing Crosby: White Christmas | Luana Patten: Johnny Tremain Follow Me, Boys!

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Reviewed August 17, 2014.



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