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It's two . . . two . . . two animated shorts in one!
on May 11, 2014
Well, let's be honest here: For a pairing of stories into a single feature, this one should feel the most awkward. One is chipper, fable-like and heart-warming, while the second is far more frightening, even for a seasoned movie watcher like myself. It is, nonetheless, a successful pairing, and only Disney could have achieved such a success. Even so, because the two shorts are so diverse, I shall review them separately.
1. The Wind in the Willows
In this tale, we are introduced to J. Thaddeus Toad, the fun-loving, mania-minded wealthy owner and resident of Toad Hall, an estate that is the pride of all the animals. His frequent manias, however, have put his finances into a time of peril, and it is up to Angus MacBadger, a cranky old codger of an accountant, to help sus the money problems, while Ratty and Mole, Toad's closest friends, try to keep Toad out of any further trouble. Need I say that they are unsuccessful? Toad makes good his escape and chases after yet another mania: "the motorcar!" He buys one on the spot, and that action causes him to lose the deed to Toad Hall. It is then the task of MacBadger, Ratty and Mole to help Toad regain the deed and save his estate, culminating in a classic cat-and-mouse, cloak-and-dagger, knock-down, drag-out chase scene. Look for reprises of all four characters, plus Cyril J. Proudbottom (the horse), among others in Disney's "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983).
2. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Having read the original story by Washington Irving, I can say both honestly and enthusiastically, that, as fine a story as the original is for its time, it would deservedly be entirely forgotten by now had Disney not come along and up-scaled the story. Yes, the story has endured some minor changes, but all for the better. For instance, there is no threat in the original, of the Headless Horseman seeking a new head to replace his Jack-o-lantern stand in. In Irving's time, such an idea would be well over the top. Nope. In the original, the scariest thing that the spectre does is ride along side Mr. Crane as he rides toward the famed covered bridge. I doubt such a thing would have been scary at all even in the 1950's, but Disney's version, even in this new century, still sends chills into the hearts of viewers. While the ending may feel a bit perfunctory, as did the original ending, we are still left catching our breath for a very thrilling ride.
The 1958 award-winning duo of animated features has a running time of 68 minutes, and comes from an era when Walt Disney and his team of "nine old men" were at their peak in skill and technique as artists and animators. This is a marvelous work and is fully deserving of accolades even today. Even so, I tend to enjoy "The Wind in the Willows" only every spring, and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" every fall.