Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Fun and Fancy Free, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (This article was originally published on the Disqus site.)

Title: Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Year: 1947; 1949

Source materials :

“Little Bear Bongo” by Sinclair Lewis

“Jack and the Beanstalk” traditional cornish tale, popularized by Henry Cole

“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving

Background:

Shortly after the rough animation on Dumbo was complete in May 1941, the Jack story, then called The Legend of Happy Valley, went into production, using many of the same cast. Meanwhile, production was starting on Bongo, a film based on the short story written by Sinclair Lewis for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1930. It was suggested that Bongo could be a prequel to Dumbo and some of the cast from the 1941 film would appear as supporting characters. The script was nearly completed by December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor

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1938, shortly after the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, James Bodrero and Campbell Grant pitched to Walt Disney the idea of making a feature film of Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s book The Wind in the Willows. Disney acquired the rights in June that year. By early 1941, a basic script was complete, and production began in May that year. Within six months, 33 minutes of the film had been animated.Thus, in October 1941, Disney put the production of Wind in the Willows, Bongo, and Happy Valley on hold.

After the war, Disney still did not have the capital to create a full length feature. He put the three stories back into production and began work on the Sleep Hollow story.

Plot: Each of the films consist of two stories with a framing device.

Fun and Fancy Free

Jiminy Cricket first appears inside a large plant in a large house, exploring and singing “I’m a Happy-go-Lucky Fellow”, until he happens to stumble upon a doll, a teddy bear, and a record player with some records, one of which is Bongo, a musical romance story narrated by actress Dinah Shore.

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The story follows the adventures of a circus bear named Bongo who wishes he could live freely in the wild. Bongo is raised in captivity and is praised for his performances, but is poorly treated once he is off stage. While traveling by a circus train, he escapes and enters a forest. He meets a female bear named Lulubelle. The two fall in love, until Bongo immediately faces a romantic rival in the brutish, enormously-shaped bear named Lumpjaw. Bongo fails to interpret Lulubelle slapping him as a sign of affection and when she accidentally slaps Lumpjaw, he claims her for himself, forcing all other bears into a celebration for the “happy” new couple. Bongo comes to understand the meaning of slapping one another among wild bears and returns to challenge Lumpjaw. He manages to outwit Lumpjaw for much of their fight until the two fall into a river and go over a waterfall. While Lumpjaw is swept away and dies, Bongo’s hat saves him from falling down and he finally can claim Lulubelle as his mate.

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Jiminy finds an invitation for a party and finds Edgar Bergen with the help of his ventriloquist dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, tells a tale to child actor Luana Patten at her birthday party:

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A jovial countryside land called Happy Valley, kept alive at all times by a singing harp, is suddenly plagued by a severe drought and falls into turmoil and depression after the harp is stolen. The residents are driven into poverty and forced to leave in order to avoid death by starvation. Eventually, only three residents are left: Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. The trio have but just one loaf of bread and a single solitary bean to eat. Donald, driven to insanity by starvation, attempts to kill their pet cow with an axe, but is stopped by Mickey and Goofy. Mickey then decides to sell the cow for money to buy food.

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Goofy and Donald are excited about eating again until Mickey comes back and reveals that he traded their beloved bovine for a container of beans, which he claims to be magical. An enraged Donald, throws the beans down the floor and they fall through a hole. However, it turns out that the beans are truly magical after all as later that night, the light of a full moon causes a beanstalk to sprout from under the house and lift it far up into the sky.

The next morning, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy enter a magical kingdom of enormous scope, where they eventually make their way to a huge castle, and help themselves to a sumptuous feast. They stumble across the harp locked in a small box, as she explains that she was kidnapped by a “wicked giant”. Sure enough, just then, a giant named Willie emerges from the shadows.

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Willie accidentally catches Mickey in his sandwich. Mickey plays palm reader and gains the childish giant’s trust. Willie offers to show off his powers, and Mickey, spotting a nearby fly-swatter, asks him to change into a fly. However, Willie suggests turning into a pink bunny instead, and as he does he sees Mickey, Donald, and Goofy with the fly-swatter. Angry, Willie captures Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and locks them in the harp’s chest.

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In order to escape, Mickey must find the key and rescue his friends, and does so with the help of the singing golden harp, who begins singing Willie to sleep. Mickey almost alerts Willie to his presence by sneezing after falling into a box of powder in Willie’s pocket, but the same powder makes Willie sneeze and he loses sight of Mickey. Mickey frees his friends and they make a break for it with the harp. However, Willie wakes up from his sleep and spots them, giving chase all the way to the beanstalk. Mickey stalls him long enough for Donald and Goofy to reach the bottom and begin sawing the beanstalk. Mickey arrives just in time to finish the job of cutting down the beanstalk, and Willie, who was climbing down, falls to his apparent death.

Just as Bergen says that Willie is a fictional character and not real, Willie himself appears, alive and well, tearing the roof off the narrator’s house, looking for Mickey. Willie notices The Brown Derby restaurant and picks up the building searching for any sign of Mickey and since the restaurant looks like a hat, places it on his head, and stomps off with the HOLLYWOOD lights blinking in the background.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad In a library, Basil Rathbone narrates the story.

Angus MacBadger asks Toad’s friends Ratty (a water rat) and Moley (a mole) to persuade Toad to give up his latest mania of recklessly driving about the countryside in a horse and gypsy cart. Ratty and Moley confront Toad, but are unable to change his mind. Toad then sees a motor car for the first time and becomes entranced by the new machine, having been taken over by “motor-mania.”

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Toad arrested and charged with car theft. At his trial, Toad represents himself and calls his horse Cyril Proudbottom as his first witness. Cyril testifies that the car which Toad was accused of stealing had already been stolen by a gang of weasels. Toad had entered a tavern where the car was parked and offered to buy the car from the weasels. However, since Toad had no money, he instead offered to trade Toad Hall for the car. Toad then calls the bartender Mr. Winky as a witness to the agreement; however, Winky falsely testifies that Toad had tried to sell him the stolen car. Toad is found guilty on the spot and sentenced to life in .

On Christmas Eve, Cyril visits Toad in disguise as his grandmother and helps him escape by giving him a disguise of his own. Meanwhile, MacBadger discovers that Winky is the leader of the weasel gang, and that they have indeed taken over Toad Hall; Winky himself is in possession of the deed. Knowing that the deed bearing Toad and Winky’s signature would prove Toad’s innocence, the four friends sneak into Toad Hall and take the document after a grueling chase around the estate.

As MacBadger, Ratty, and Moley celebrate the New Year with a toast to Toad, who they believe has completely reformed, Toad and Cyril recklessly fly past on a 1903 Wright Flyer; Toad has not truly reformed and developed a mania for airplanes.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Back in the library, Bing Crosby takes over the story

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Ichabod Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow. Despite his odd behavior and effeminate mannerisms, Ichabod soon wins the hearts of the village’s women. Brom Bones, the roughish town hero, does his best to bully Ichabod. Ichabod then falls in love with Katrina van Tassel, the beautiful daughter and only child of Baltus van Tassel, who is the richest man in the village.Brom, who is also in love with her, proceeds to compete with the schoolmaster. Katrina, who thinks Brom is too sure of himself, is only using Ichabod to make Brom jealous and force him to try harder for her affections.

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At the van Tassel Halloween party Brom he decides to sing the tale of the legendary Headless Horseman who was apparently killed by a cannonball and travels each year on Halloween while searching for a head to replace the one he had lost. Everyone else, including Katrina, finds this amusing while Ichabod, on the other hand, starts to fear for his life.

On his way home from the party, Ichabod becomes paranoid by every animal noise he hears while riding through the dark woods. He encounters the Headless Horseman riding a black horse (that is, suspiciously, identical to Brom’s horse). After the ghost gives chase, Ichabod, remembering Brom’s advice, crosses a covered bridge, which stops the ghost’s pursuit. However, the horseman throws his flaming head, revealed to be a great big jack-o’-lantern, at a screaming Ichabod.

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The next morning, Ichabod’s hat is found at the bridge next to a shattered pumpkin, but Ichabod himself is nowhere to be found. Sometime later, Brom takes Katrina as his bride. Rumors begin to spread that Ichabod is still alive, married to a wealthy widow in a distant county with children who all look like him. However, the people of Sleepy Hollow insist that he was “spirited away” by the Headless Horseman

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Cast:

Cliff Edwards- Jiminy Cricket
Edgar Bergen- himself, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd
Luana Patten- herself
Walt Disney- Mickey Mouse – this would be the last time Walt would voice Mickey until the theme for The Mickey Mouse Club
Clarence Nash- Donald Duck, Ichabod’s horse
Pinto Colvig- Goofy, Ichabod screaming
Billy Gilbert- Willie the Giant
Anita Gordon- singing harp

Bing Crosby – Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, Narrator

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Basil Rathbone – Narrator, Policeman

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Eric Blore – J. Thaddeus Toad
Claude Allister – Ratty
Colin Campbell – Moley
Campbell Grant – Angus MacBadger
J. Pat O’Malley – Cyril Proudbottom, Mr. Winky, Policeman, Unseen Paper Boy

Critical Reception:

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The New York Times liked it saying: “As a craftsman who had strayed slightly from his chosen field, Walt Disney is to be congratulated on his return to the realm of pure animation in “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” which arrived at the Mayfair on Saturday. For in this, his latest feature and one in which a supporting cast of “live” players is refreshingly absent, Mr. Disney, abetted by his staff, such perfect narrators as Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone, and a pair of durable literary works, has fashioned a conclave of cartoon creatures, which, by and large, have the winsome qualities and charm of such noted creations as “Mickey Mouse,” “Dumbo,” et al…the credits outweigh the debits and Mr. Disney has included enough elements of entertainment to make his newest film package a solid entertainment.”

Legacy :

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In the Magic Kingdom, a store called Sir Mickey’s has a beanstalk growing around the story. Disneyland has a popular attraction called Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a dark ride that takes you in Toad’s car through Toad Hall and eventually to hell.

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A version used to exist at the Magic Kingdom but it was replaced by Pooh ride. However in the Pooh ride, there is a picture of Owl buying the deed from Toad. The Toad statue became part of the Haunted Mansion’s pet cemetery.

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At Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, the Headless Horseman leads the parade.

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Mickey and the Beanstalk was later re-edited with Ludwig von Drake (voiced by Paul Frees) replacing Bergen. This is the version available on Netflix.

Next: We return to full length animated movies with Cinderella