The years directly after World War II were tough ones for Walt Disney’s studio. While still churning out a regular series of animated shorts, the studio needed another blockbuster animated feature hit to pay debts racked up during the war years when the studio was commissioned for the war effort. A series of compilation films along with the animation/live action hit Song of the South kept the doors open until Cinderella could put the studio back on secure ground. Among those compilations were Fun and Fancy Free (1947) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). While neither film has ever commanded the same amount of attention as Disney’s animated feature classics, there are memorable sequences in both of them and quite a bit of pleasure to be found with each revisit.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 8 Min./1 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/12/2014
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad contains Disney-tainted variations on two genuine classics of literature: the Toad of Toad Hall sequences of The Wind in the Willows and Washington Irving’s masterful short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the former sequence (narrated in clipped, sometimes formal but occasionally sly fashion by Basil Rathbone), the self-indulgent J. Thaddeus Toad (Eric Blore) must be saved from his own foolish caprices (which include losing his beautiful mansion Toad Hall to a gang of rascally weasels) by his accountant Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant) and his friends the serious and stern Rat (Claude Allister) and the sweetly simple Mole (Colin Campbell). In the film’s latter (and better) half, Bing Crosby in his inimitable hip (for the 1940s) fashion narrates in dialogue and song one of the most famous love triangles in American literature between the gold digging schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, the boisterous, burly Brom Bones, and the wily, flirtatious Katrina Van Tassel.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The animation in both sequences is masterful, among the most evocative and detailed that can be found in any of Disney’s more famous classic films, and both sequences end in frantic chases: our heroes with a vital piece of evidence trying to escape from the villains chasing them in Toad Hall in the first and in the second the unforgettably tense and suspenseful dash to safety by a frantic Ichabod Crane being chased through the countryside by the notorious ghost rider the Headless Horseman. The latter story also boasts a wonderful trio of songs by Don Raye and Gene De Paul crooned by the Old Groaner with backup singing by the swinging Rhythmaires which characterizes three of the story’s most interesting personas: Ichabod, Katrina, and the Horseman. Those songs and its otherwise uncommon fidelity to the original story (much of the narration is lifted straight from Washington Irving) make the second half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad truly a must-see adventure though Mr. Toad has lived on in the hearts and minds of many a baby boomer who visited one of Disney’s theme parks and enjoyed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Fun and Fancy Free also contains two cartoon shorts running a little over a half hour each along with some linking material with a pair of hosts. Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) starts things off with a discarded song from Pinocchio “I’m a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow” before stumbling across Dinah Shore’s recording of the story of Bongo, a bear who’s the star attraction at the circus but who longs for the freedom of the great outdoors. When he makes his escape, he finds the wild somewhat less accommodating than he imagined, but that is all forgotten when he finds true love though the road to it has its own bumpy circumstances. Afterwards, Jiminy stumbles on a party being given by Edgar Bergen and his pals Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd for Luana Patten. For entertainment, Edgar relates the familiar story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” only this time with a trio of farmers – Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy – facing off against the bumbling giant and attempting to wrest from the giant their community’s singing harp stolen by him and make their escape.
The film seems crowded and slightly off-kilter with one narrator too many. Owing to the great radio popularity at the time of Edgar Bergen, it’s not surprising that he would be one of the film’s hosts, but the movie’s use of Jiminy Cricket first and then almost forgetting about him when Bergen and company take over seems a bit ill-conceived. Each of the two stories has charm and terrific animation (Donald’s throes of agony as he faces starvation are always good for a laugh), but how wise they weren’t each developed into feature films as was the original intention because neither story is truly strong enough to stand on its own. Dinah Shore warbles three tunes in the Bongo segment in her trademark velvety smooth style: “Lazy Countryside,” “Too Good to Be True,” and “Say It With a Slap” while the second segment features “Happy Day” and “My Favorite Dream” (with lovely Anita Gordon vocals) and “Fee Fi Fo Fum” for the giant, all fitting songs for the moment but not carrying much weight away from their respective stories.
The films are both presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Ichabod and Mr. Toad looks very nice but with a few anomalies present. There is the occasional dust speck here and there and a bit of contouring present along with the slightest bit of flicker, but the image is a major step up from the last DVD release which was loaded with dust specks and even reel change markers very evident. But the images are sharp, and the color is fine and in control throughout. Contrast has been evenly maintained through the feature, and there is no banding to be seen. The lines in the animation all are solid and secure, and if there has been any DNR applied, it’s been done judiciously. Fun and Fancy Free has bolder color overall than Ichabod and Mr. Toad and has a cleaner, slightly sharper appearance. The lines in the animation are solid and artifact free, and again any DNR work has been accomplished without robbing the images of detail, and the live action segments appear very sharp and natural. The films have each been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The disc offers two English language choices for Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The lossy Dolby track actually has dialogue that’s more direct and forward in the mix and sound effects and music that give a greater sense of richness and fullness perhaps owing to a slight increase in volume but also to a more dynamic mix. The dialogue track for the lossless mix in each film is somewhat less effective, and the effects and music only barely make their presences known in the rear channels. I preferred the lossy mixes with each of these films.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The Reluctant Dragon (1:13:36, HD): Disney’s 1941 behind-the-scenes feature film with comedian/raconteur Robert Benchley sneaking around the studio lot and watching voice recordings, music sessions, art classes, animators at work, the Multiplane camera in use, Foley being dubbed, and getting a sneak peak at three shorts: “Baby Weems,” “How to Ride a Horse,” and “The Reluctant Dragon” gets a spit-and-polish remastering that is worth the price of the disc. It may be the only bonus feature present on this Blu-ray disc, but the beautifully sharp and artifact-free picture in 1080p (AVC codec; Dolby Digital 1.0 audio) with crisp black and white and gorgeous Technicolor photography is something to see. Though some of the lot’s actual employees get featured (Clarence Nash, Florence Gill, Ward Kimball, and Walt Disney, of course), there are also surprising appearances in small parts playing studio employees by Alan Ladd, Frank Faylen, John Dehner, Frances Gifford, Jeff Corey, and Gerald Mohr.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
DVDs: Each film gets a separate DVD enclosed in the case. Ichabod and Mr. Toad contains as a bonus feature “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Storybook. Fun and Fancy Free contains “The Story Behind Fun and Fancy Free” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” Storybook.
Promo Trailers (HD): Disneynature: Bears, Sleeping Beauty, Legend of the Neverbeast.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is one of Disney’s more neglected classics and deserves rediscovery. Fun and Fancy Free is exactly that: a little lark of a movie that’s entertaining but not especially memorable. Both are served well in high definition, and they’re joined by another studio treasure The Reluctant Dragon as a bonus item. Why the bonuses on the enclosed DVDs weren’t also placed on the Blu-ray disc is rather a mystery, but at least they’re part of the package. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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