The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad (1949)
The Final Package Film!
A That's Not Canon Productions podcast
Hi there, and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood, a podcast where I discuss the history of each of the Disney animated feature films and then provide a synopsis and some modern social commentary. I’m Jen, and today, I’m going to be talking about The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr Toad from 1949, the final package film.
Y’all, these four movies from the 1940s have been pretty rough. I can’t claim to have had any of these shown to me on a regular basis during my childhood, but I do remember the second half of this film, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, being shown on Disney channel around Halloween every year.
It wasn’t until I started the research on this movie that I fully understood why the five package films happened. See, in episodes 2, 3, and 4, I talked about the absolute box office failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia. In Episode 5, I talked about how Dumbo was a success, but its production was interrupted by the most important animator’s strike in the history of animation. And then in Episode 7 and in the Bonus episode at the beginning of October, I talked about how Disney turned 90% of their animation efforts toward military training films and American propaganda during World War II.
And all of those things had something to do with the package films of the 1940s, but there’s one more piece to this puzzle. The bank. But in order to tell you the story of how the bank created package films, we need to go back in time to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
When Walt Disney Productions decided to make Snow White, Walt’s initial budget was $250,000, but the actual final budget was just over $1.4 million. The studio didn’t have that much money. Walt mortgaged his house, and yet, they were still a quarter of a million dollars short.
From the beginning, Walt had said that the studio would succeed or fail on their own money, but as they entered the home stretch, he realized he had to call the bank. A banker from the Bank of America named Joe Rosenberg was given their account, and he said he’d determine whether the bank would loan the money based on what the studio already had completed.
At this point, Walt had issued an edict that no one outside the studio would be allowed to see an incomplete film, but given the choice between no one ever seeing Snow White and a single banker seeing it incomplete, Walt welcomed him into a viewing room. Alone.
They sat in the viewing room, just the two of them, in silence, as the completed footage rolled. According to a quote by Walt in the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, Joe had no reactions to the film whatsoever. He watched it quietly and intently, and even yawned a few times. When the footage was done, he got up and left the projection room without a word or reaction.
So we have Walt Disney whose entire studio’s future is riding on Joe Rosenberg’s opinion of this movie, and there’s no reaction. Feeling doomed, Walt walked Rosenberg back to his car, and just before Joe closed the door, he said, “Walt, that picture will make you a potfull of money.”
And thus, Joe Rosenberg became the banker for Walt Disney Productions.
But what does this have to do with the package films of the 1940s? Well, it has to do with Joe.
As I’ve mentioned, Pinocchio didn’t make its production budget back due to the international box offices closing due to World War 2, and Fantasia basically could have thrown hundred dollar bills out of an airplane and lost less money.
But Joe Rosenberg had faith in the studio. That is, until the animators’ strike of 1941. That’s when Joe called in Disney’s debts. When Walt came to Rosenberg and asked for a loan to cover their costs, Joe agreed, but this time, there were more requirements.
The Bank of America agreed to give Walt Disney Productions $3.5 million dollars, that's $61.9 million today, but not a penny more. They drafted an agreement that Disney could only complete the three full-length films they were currently working on — Dumbo, Bambi, and The Wind in the Willows, more on that in a bit — and then the company was not permitted to start a new feature length film until all their debts were paid.
That’s right. In 1941, Disney was told they could only make shorts until the Bank of America got their full loan repaid.
Add that to the military occupying the studio lot for most of 1941, and their agreement to dedicate 90% of their production into wartime efforts, and you have a studio that’s putting out a lot of shorts.
Okay, so everyone’s heard about Dumbo and Bambi, but there was a third film in that agreement. And herein is where I actually start talking about this movie. Sorry, sometimes you get the spoils of what I lovingly refer to as my rabbit-hole research.
The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908 by Scottish novelist Kenneth Grahame and focused on anthropomorphized animals. That’s why right after the release of Snow White, two of the Disney animators pitched making a movie out of that book.
I wanted to write a full history of the Wind in the Willows, but really there’s a lot there, so I’m going to do my very best to summarize where this story came from. Brace yourself, it gets real sad. If you’re triggered by mentions of suicide or forced closeting of gay people, maybe skip ahead about a minute and a half.
Most scholars today believe Grahame was gay. Not only was being gay seen as anathema in the early 1900s, but it was actually still illegal in the United Kingdom until 2001. So, lesbians and gays were, to put it mildly, closeted. Grahame was married and had a single son Alaistair, but the relationship between Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger is now widely seen as a utopian vision of how homosexuals could live within society. Grahame just never got so see a day where gay men could live in the open.
His son, Alastair was legally blind and also otherwise disabled. This was back when the best thing to do with disabled children was make sure no one ever saw them, but Grahame wasn’t that dad. Instead, he wrote stories to teach his son the ways of the world. He loved Alastair and affectionately referred to him mouse.
And Alastair learned as well as could be expected. Attended Eton, and was accepted to Christ’s Church college. However, in his first year at, he failed all of his exams. He was told he could have one more chance, but if he failed again, he’d have to leave. The day before the exams, he was seen by another student drinking a full glass of port at breakfast and then striding off.
They found his body on a train track on the grounds of Oxford with his head decapitated.
This is terribly sad, and in my first version of the script, I skipped over most of that, but here’s the thing I found as I dug into this a little deeper. Because of Alastair Grahame’s suicide on their grounds, Oxford adapted policies to make their schooling more accessible to students with disabilities. And what Oxford does, eventually, everywhere does. So, though the loss of Kenneth’s beloved Mouse is definitely heartbreaking, I want you to know that he changed the world for the better.
I also want to read you the forward that A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, wrote for it in an edition published in 2014 long after both authors’ deaths. I think we can assume from this passage that A.A. was quite fond of The Wind in the Willows.
"One can argue over the merits of most books, and in arguing understand the point of view of one's opponent. One may even come to the conclusion that possibly he is right after all. One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can't criticize it, because it is criticizing us. ... It is a Household Book; a book which everybody in the household loves, and quotes continually; A book which is read aloud to every new guest and is regarded as the touchstone of his worth."
Anyway, these animators thought, since the Disney animators were already professionals at drawing anthropomorphized animals, animating the Wind in the Willows would be a natural fit. Walt wasn’t thrilled, he called the idea “corny,” but he acquired the rights anyway.
The studio had just finished the script and begun animation when the animators’ strike happened, and thus, was included in the bank’s ultimatum because, at the time, it was planned to be a full adaptation of the book.
Eventually, after watching the initial footage, Walt shelved The Wind in the Willows because he felt it was too crude to be released.
The studio would start work on The Wind in the Willows again in 1946, eventually cutting it down to 25 minutes. They also started work on an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was published in a series of essays by American author Washington Irving in 1820 along with such other classics as Rip Van Winkle.
Irving had traveled Europe studying the folktales that had not already been written down by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. He found that several cultures had headless horsemen myths and felt America needed its own. However, as he enlisted in the military upon returning home, and there was this pesky little thing called the Revolutionary War, his writing would be delayed.
Sleepy Hollow is a real place. It’s in Southern New York State. And Irving was posted there during the War. While there, he was witness to a Hessian soldier, Germans who fought for the British, found decapitated on a bridge over the Pocantico River.
After the war, he became the assistant to the Governor of New York, and it was while accompanying him on a tour of fortifications in Sackets Harbour that he met a general named Ichabod Crane.
So, what I’m saying is, it’s not super clear where Washington Irving came up with the ideas for this story.
Neither the completed version of The Wind and the Willows nor The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were long enough to show on their own, so after several rewrites and reworks, Walt Disney Productions combined them into one. But because both of the cartoons had been in and out of production for so long, it’s kind of impossible to track down exactly what this movie’s budget was.
That said, when it was released, it received critical praise. The New York Times praised it for its charm, and Time saw the Wind in the Willows as an excellent bit of satire. Even today, the film has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with its overall consensus reading “This Disney two-fer may not be the most reverent literary adaptation, but it's remarkably crafted and emotionally resonant.”
It also won a Golden Globe for Best Cinematography Color.
It’s box office didn’t do too badly either. When it was released, its overall box office earnings, domestic and international were $1.6 million, which is about $17.7 million today.
Walt ended up liking the final version of the Wind in the Willow so much that it became the focus of one of the first rides to be installed at Disneyland. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is still available to ride at Disneyland Anaheim, but Disney World Orlando replaced it in 1998 in favour of a Winnie the Pooh ride. I wonder how A.A. Milne would have felt about his works replacing the work of Grahame’s.
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They couldn't even come up with lyrics to the opening number. "Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Ichabod, Ichabod!"
Bing Crosby's going to tell us about Ichabod Crane. If nothing else, these 40s cartoons have star power.
The first line of this movie is, "If you were asked who was the most fabulous character in English literature, who would it be?" And, honestly, I want an answer. Seriously, pause the podcast, go to one of my Social Media pages, oofmychildhood on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and tell me immediately who you think the most fabulous character in English literature is. I’ll wait.
Is it Ichabod Crane or Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows? I think not. If it is, who are you?
The narrator lists off several characters that are going to be in future Disney films: Robin Hood, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist.
Then he tells us that he believes Mr. Toad is his choice of fabulous characters.
The Wind in the Willows
We open to Mole and Rat having tea. The Water Rat gets post from a human mailman. That sounds like a thing that definitely happens. Rat and Mailman exchange pleasantries. Given that Timothy mouse speaks Human in Dumbo, maybe it’s just murids that speak Human? Possibly all rodents?
The letter tells them they must come to Toad Hall urgently. Was anything truly urgent before telephones and other forms of instant communication?
Toad has a nice house. I want that house.
The badger is a Scottish accountant. Have you ever seen better anthropomorphism?
He’s going through everything Mr. Toad has ever destroyed and how much it’s going to cost him.
Well, the humans here understand Badger, so I guess all animals in this universe speak Human. I don’t know about other universes.
Hoo boy, there’s that racist slur that starts with G again. Spoiler alert, this will definitely not be the last time it comes up in one of these movies. [cough] Hunchback [cough]. Toad is going about the countryside in a yellow — um — cart harassing other animals. He sings a song that has an option for pronouncing Worcestershire to consider. They’re going nowhere.
Mole’s game for going nowhere.
Ratty proceeds to try to talk sense into Toad. Toad plugs his ears then declares he shall never give up his horse and cart. Then he immediately screams, “A motorcar!” and gives up his horse and cart.
I grow concerned for Toad’s mental health here. We’ll just lock him away. That’s fine.
They’re saving Toad Hall and all that it stood for. What exactly does Toad Hall stand for?
Toad immediately climbs out a window. Really, if you’re going to lock someone up, you have to remember the windows. It’s rule one.
So Toad has motor cars on the brain, sneaks out, and steals a car. Well, I’m going to double down on ‘probably needs psychiatric help’ here.
Prosecution calls Rat and Mole to the stand at the same time. I don’t believe that England’s justice system is that different.
Toad does not seem to care. He’s going to be his own barrister. This is traditionally a bad idea. He calls the horse to the stand. This bodes well.
Cyril the Horse testifies that Toad saw some weasels leave the car and that, after smelling the exhaust, which I’m sure was less poisonous then, decides to follow them.
There's a human barman named Winky and his entire clientele is Weasels. Fishy.
Then Toad signs his house to a passel of weasels for the car that they stole. Was Mr Toad on Ambien when he gave away Toad Hall?
To verify this story, he’s going to call the bartender who serves literal weasels and brokered a deal to trade a stolen car for a house. Excellent. Pro tip: If ever your life hangs based on the testimony of one person, maybe don’t talk about how honest and trustworthy they are before hearing what they’re about to say.
And Winky the Weasel-serving barman lies about Toad trying to sell him a stolen motorcar.
Toad goes to the Tower. He swears to never go after a folly again. I feel this will immediately be forgotten. Cyril the Horse comes in dressed as Toad’s “Grandma”. The guard doesn’t notice, despite the fact that Toad’s Grandma is 10x his size.
Cyril brought Toad a dress. Moments after Toad swore he’d never have another “mania” Toad is manic again. Probably needs medication and therapy. He escapes from prison in a dress and wig and carrying his ball and chain like the heaviest bustle ever. He also tricks all the tracking dogs and a policeman for a moment.
He steals a train and sniffs its exhaust. I’m starting to think there’s more to this “mania” than meets the eye, and now there are police shooting at him on a train.
He decides to escape by throwing himself underwater with the ball and chain. He's stuck under water, which is fine because he's amphibious at least.
The riverbank banned his name this Christmas. That's — extreme.
Ratty and Mole are eating Christmas dinner when toad falls through their door. How did he get there?
“It’s a poor old lady!”
"I, Toad, afraid of the police?!?"
Given the current times, I half expected, "Screw the police!"
Ratty is having none of this escaping from prison. In the book, Ratty is less stiff, but not a lot.
Then Badger storms in. He’s made a discovery! Surprise, Bartender Winky is in league with the weasels.
"Toad was innocent, the whole time." No, really?!?
They proceed to try to steal the deed back from the weasels. Probably should’ve left Toad at home. He’s impetuous to say the least.
There are so many weasels passed out drunk. In what world is suspending Mole off a balcony less risky than stepping over sleeping weasels? There was even a big space in front of the settee.
Also, how had no one noticed that the many weasels who Toad claimed to have traded his house to were living in the house? I might be wrong, but just because someone’s in prison doesn’t mean their property is seized. And because Toad had so many debtors, it feels like someone should’ve seized those assets.
After a thoroughly fun fight, Badger says, "Well, Laddies, we saved our skins, but we dinna get the deed." But Toad did!
So, they got the hall back. Did he pay off all his debts? I'm unclear. He's a changed person, so, yes? Oh, but no, he has a plane now. Back to his old tricks.
Note: When the narrator replaces The Wind in the Willows, I notice that it’s between The Canterbury Tales and A History of Highland Clans. I don’t know who put this library in order, but I want to talk.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Narrator switches to Bing Crosby who says, "Over here in the colonies, we’ve come up with a few of our own [fabulous characters]"
Did we still call the U.S. “the colonies” in the 40s? Bing mentions people from Melody Time as “fabulous characters.”
Then he proceeds to describe Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in the least flattering way possible. "His head...looked like a weathercock stuck on his neck."
That's definitely a description.
I think Brom Bones is Disney’s proto-Gaston.
“Here comes a stranger. I’ve never seen one before.”
The Ichabod Crane song is better than Toad’s song.
Ichabod believes in the old adage "Spare the rod, spoil the child. Unless their mom will feed me"
He keeps chicken drumsticks in his pockets. Gross.
Proto-Gaston makes fun of Ichabod’s singing.
Every man in town is in love with the same girl and giving her all kinds of gifts. She seems to have no idea this is happening.
Katrina’s so hot Ichabod literally eats his hat. And leaves his school room to chaos. Because sure, why not?
Also, her dad has so much land. How can he not want to marry her? Hey, Ichabod’s a creep.
Katrina doesn’t like Proto-Gaston. His motives with her are unclear. We don’t know if Proto likes her because of her daddy’s money or just because she’s pretty. Possible because she’s new?
Y’know what I just realized? No one talks in this segment except for Bing Crosby.
Katrina’s stirring the pot between Ichabod and Proto-Gaston.
"What is this strange power you have over women?"
Is this a question or is it Ichabod's inner monologue. If the second, he's not a "nice guy," he's just another twat.
To be clear, Katrina and Proto-Gaston are not great humans either. Everyone sucks here.
The secret word for this segment is pedagogue. Crosby says it all the time.
There’s this dance scene where Proto-Gaston pretends to dance with the short chubby girl to trick Ichabod into dancing with her.. I’m sure it was funny at one time, but right now it’s just Oof! Right in the Childhood.
Literally the only thing I remember about this cartoon from when I was a kid was the amount of food that Ichabod can put away.
It’s time for spooky story time! It’s got a fun jazzy beat. This story about the headless horseman really scares Ichabod. I don’t know it seems just silly. “He likes them little and he likes em big.” Disney movies out of context.
Ichabod’s fright doesn’t stop him from chowing down, though. The secret is to cross the bridge before he catches you. Check.
Scary forest is scary. They’re in a graveyard and something’s galloping at them and his horse is asleep? Nope, cattails.
Now for the real Headless Horseman!
So, have you heard the Mandela effect where segments of the population remember things that didn’t happen? I remember two endings to this cartoon. One where Ichabod gets away and marries Katrina and the one that actually happens where a flaming pumpkin comes flying through the covered bridge. And — uh — does Ichabod die?
I guess because Katrina married Proto-Gaston. What a happy way to end this story. Yay.
But you know what's next?!? Cinderella!!!
But until then, I want to know what you think. Do you remember The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad from your childhood? Do you wanna tell me who you think the most fabulous character in all of literature is? Did you, like me, remember watching the second half every Halloween? Let me know on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under oofmychildhood.
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My theme music was composed and played by Shawn Rudolph of Let Music Be. For more information on that studio, you can visit their website at letmusic.be or check the show notes for an easy link
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Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you come back each week to discuss Disney through modern eyes. And while you’re at it, if you’re enjoying yourself, please let your friends know about me. I’d also appreciate a rating and review wherever you’re listening to the show. This podcast is written and recorded by me. This episode was edited by Anastasia Saff. I release a new episode every Monday through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many, many other podcatchers.
So, until next time, keep the magic alive.