Ultimate Disney Tournament: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad vs. Johnny Tremain

Hiya folks. Welcome back to Dyl’s Ultimate Movie Tournament. I hope you’re feeling patriotic because today’s match-up accidentally has a bit of a theme. We have two stories set in the early days of this grand country we call the USA. It’s #65 seed The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad versus #192 Johnny Tremain. So, grab your muskets and let old glory fly, because it’s time to jump into it.

#65 – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, and James Algar

Writers: Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Homer Brigthman, and Harry Reeves

Starring: Eric Blore, Pat O’Malley, Colin Campbell, John McLeish, Campbell Grant, Claude Allister, Leslie Denison, Edmond Stevens, The Rhythmaires, Basil Rathbone, and Bing Crosby

Plot: Two narrators, one British and the other American, each tell us one of the most famous tales from their country, The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Mini-Review:

As I talked about in the Make Mine Music review, World War II put the Walt Disney Company in a bit of an interesting position. A lot of their animators were otherwise occupied with either serving in or making propaganda for the war. In order to carry on, Disney made the package films made up of several loosely tied together shorts. Overall, they are a very mixed bag, but I’d say the best of them is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That’s probably because each short was originally pitched as a feature-length movie. The Wind in the Willows in particular had been kicked around in some form or another since right after Snow White was made. So, they had years to work on these concepts. It shows too. Each one feels like it’s its own separate movie, yet they complement each other perfectly. Both stories are simple. There’s not a moment wasted. And, overall, they’re both just really fun. If you squint real hard, it almost feels like a normal Disney flick that doesn’t feel like it was made in the same weird circumstances as the other package films. The keyword here is almost. 

As is the norm around here, let’s break this one down segment by segment. (Can you believe this is already our third package film? I mean… what are the odds they’d all be in the first part of this challenge?)

Our first adventure is The Wind in the Willows, where we follow the legal proceedings of J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. He has a bit of an obsession with thrill-seeking and constantly is getting himself into trouble. I really enjoy this short. It’s got good energy. It’s amazing how well it puts you in the shoes of Mr. Toad’s friends. You’re exasperated with him. You want him to do the right thing. And, while you want to be annoyed when he doesn’t, you also can’t hate the guy for wanting to have a good time. On an animation level, it’s super well done. The character designs are all terrific. You can tell this movie was a big influence on things like Roger Rabbit, The Great Mouse Detective, and, even, Winnie the Pooh. It’s a very simple look, but, also, kind of stands out in a unique way. And, I feel like they trimmed down the story perfectly. It never drags. There’s not a wasted moment. We get a very quick introduction to the characters and then we’re off to the races. Figuratively (and a little literally) speaking. Overall, it’s a very good short.

I very much enjoyed the second segment too. I’m a big fan of things that go bump in the night and love when Disney decides to tap into their creepier side. And, boy oh boy, did they ever with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Watching what is essentially a horror film in the classic Disney animated style is a real treat. I will admit that I’m not huge on the first half of this short though. I don’t really care for the character of Ichabod all that much, so his romantic escapades didn’t really hold my interest. However, the moment we hit Halloween, I’m fully on board. And, whoever thought of having Bing Crosby come in as the narrator is a genius. His deep tones bring an extra level of spookiness to the whole ordeal. I really, really liked this one. I can definitely see myself revisiting it every Halloween.

So, overall, my thoughts on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad are pretty positive. It’s not up there among the best Disney stuff. There’s not quite enough substance to get it there. But, it’s a fun experience. Both adventures are fun. They each provide something you don’t see a lot of in Disney films. And, it’s a more coherent, better-assembled movie than the other package films of the era. I would definitely check it out if it sounds up your alley.

#192 – Johnny Tremain (1957)

Director: Robert Stevenson

Writers: Esther Forbes and Tom Blackburn

Starring: Hal Stalmaster, Luana Patten, Jeff York, and Sebastian Cabot

Plot: A young boy gets wrapped up in the early days of the American Revolution, after an injury derails his silversmith career. 

Mini-Review: This is going to be one of the shorter reviews I’ve written for this bracket, because, quite honestly, there’s not a lot to say about Johnny Tremain. I’m a big Disney fan. I love older movies. And, I was a history major for a while, so, obviously, I have a bit of a passion for that as well. But, holy crap, this movie is boring. I can’t even imagine how badly someone who’s not into all three of those things would react. During my research, I found two very telling facts. First, this was originally made for television. Second, after release, it was split into different parts to sell as educational films. That more or less tells you everything you need to know, in my opinion. This is very much the type of movie your seventh grade history teacher would put on when she didn’t feel like working for a week. It’s slow. The acting is bad in that usual 50’s tv style. And, it just barely glosses over some of the defining moments of the American revolution in the least compelling way possible. I was invested in the first half, as we see Johnny become injured and struggle with his legal issues. However, by the time the actual revolution started up, I had more or less checked out. It may be entertaining to kids just learning about that time period (I even have some doubt there), but no one else will get much of anything out of the experience. It’s not bad (the costumes and sets are impressive). There’s just not a lot here that holds up, storywise. Definitely a skippable one. 

The Disney Smackdown

Our Heroes: For a movie that’s main goal seems to be “look at how whacky these characters from different sides of the pond are,” The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad features two of the least sympathetic lead characters in any Disney movie. The Wind in the Willows features J. Thaddeus Toad, who, while his lust for life is contagious, just isn’t a responsible person. He’s like a friend who just can’t stop making bad life choices. By the end of his segment, you’re basically rolling your eyes in an “Oh, you!” kind of fashion. It’s very sitcom-y. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Michael Scott, but with less time for him to grow on you. Then, there’s Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I don’t know if I was supposed to hate him or not, but I most definitely did. He’s just the worst. Everything he does is in his own selfish interest. He’s nice to the schoolchildren just to get a better meal and some attention from their mothers. When he falls in love, the movie makes it very clear that he’s just in it for her family’s fortune. Then, since he’s no longer in need of the school parents, he just slacks off from teaching. Instead, he’s thinking of his new lady friend. Seriously, he’s the freaking worst. I always tend to like the villains in Disney flicks, but this is the first time I was actively rooting against the hero. Luckily, it’s basically a horror film, so we do get to watch Ichabod learn a bit of a lesson.

Johnny Tremain is a likable enough young fellow. He’s a hard worker. He’s dedicated to whatever cause he throws himself behind. Even after his injury, we see Johnny trying his hardest to get a steady job and help out wherever he can. We see him turn down any handouts, because he doesn’t feel as if he’s earned them. We also learn that he’s incredibly loyal, even standing up to a British man who wants to provide him with a better life. So, he’s definitely a good, principled dude. However, he’s really not all that compelling of a character because of it.

While I’m not a huge fan of any of the leads, Mr. Toad is probably my favorite, so this win definitely goes to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Our Beloved Side Characters: Most of the sidekicks in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad come from The Wind in the Willows, as Mr. Toad has a pretty decent amount of friends who support him. There’s Angus MacBadger, his bookkeep who is trying to keep him out of trouble. He’s mostly exhausted, which how could you not be? He calls in the help of Mole and Water Rat. Water Rat is strict and lawful, while Mole wants to be a little more lenient on their friend. Ultimately, they all do want what is best for Mr. Toad and are a tremendous help. Then, there’s Cyril Proudbottom. He’s also a very good friend of Toad’s, but he’s more into the idea of having new adventures than staying out of trouble. Thus, he’s one of the more fun characters in the entire film, even if you are rolling your eyes at him a couple times. In Sleepy Hollow, the only other “good” named character other than Ichabod is his love interest, Katrina. She doesn’t really have a whole lot to do other than be flirted with though.

In Johnny Tremain, I definitely preferred Priscilla Lapham to our lead character. She has all of the same positive qualities as Johnny but with a little more spunk. Every other character in the film was kind of flat. There were iconic and important names like Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Josiah Quincy. However, they’re portrayed exactly as you’d imagine a Disneyfied version of the Revolution would portray them. Every single one of them is this perfect man who’s got the best interest of everyone at heart and is very noble and proud and, well, boring. Some of their speeches are rousing and I’m sure this could’ve been a very interesting story (actually, as a former history major, I know it), but Disney was not the ones to tell it. Or at least not in a way that really adds anything to the conversation. 

This one easily goes to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Villainous Villains: Honestly, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is pretty stacked in this category. It’s kind of insane. In The Wind in the Willows, we have Mr. Winkie. He’s originally introduced as a witness for Mr. Toad’s defense. However, he quickly throws Toad under the bus as we figure out (dun, dun, dun) he’s the main baddie. While we don’t really learn all that much about him, I think his character design gives you everything you need to know. The dude just looks slimy and untrustworthy. I just want to punch him in the face. Speaking of iconic designs, there’s really no beating the weasels who form Winkie’s gang. In fact, their look was so iconic that it was straight-up lifted for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and DuckTales. Again, it’s such a simple look but one that instantly lets you know that these are the bad guys. Heck, I even enjoyed the prosecutor from Mr. Toad’s trial, who, again, is a character we don’t spend a lot of time with but still learn a lot about just from his appearance and a great vocal performance. But, that’s not all! The second half of the movie features two super cool villain characters as well. Brom Bones is essentially a prototype for Gaston. He’s the toughest guy in town. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s arrogant. And, he has a crush on the new girl. However, her heart is elsewhere. So, he makes a plan to get Ichabod out of the picture. I gotta say though, in this case, I was definitely rooting for him. As far as we know, he liked Katrina for Katrina and not her family fortune. And, last but certainly not least, we have the iconic Headless Horseman. Disney villains do not get much scarier than this folks. Again, it’s the look that sells him. He’s got that all black visage other than the red of his horse’s eyes, that massive flowing cape, and, of course, that flaming Jack-o-Lantern skull in his hands. Throw in that terrible high pitched scream/laugh and he’s truly terrifying. Plus, for all we know, he might’ve won in the end! It’s kind of implied that he didn’t, but we don’t really know that.  I imagine he kept more than a few kids awake at night over the decades. But, overall, the villains of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad are wonderful and truly exhibit how important the art of character design is for animated features.

Unfortunately, Johnny Tremain doesn’t really stand out in the villain category either. There’s Jonathan Lyte. He’s the rich, British jerk in town. He makes Johnny overwork, which leads to the injury. He’s also the one who wrongfully accuses Johnny of stealing from him and asks the court to consider hanging him for it. So, he does have his moments of malice. However, he just kind of abruptly disappears about 75% of the way through. He just nopes his way back to England. There’s no real climax. No payoff in any way. He’s just gone. It’s very unsatisfying. Other than that, there are a couple of British generals and other military men, but none of them are even worth naming. (Not that I could, anyways.) They’re all just prim and proper and snobby. You know, the same way all children’s entertainment represents the British at that time. 

Sorry, Johnny. Your characters really just are not memorable. Another point for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Quotable Quotes: From The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: After being asked to elaborate on what the “honest way” means in court: “I thought you wouldn’t know that one, guv’nor” “You can’t reason with a headless man.”  “I’m telling you, brother, it’s a frightful sight for what goes on Halloween night.” The narrator’s last line: “Man, I’m getting out of here.”

From Johnny Tremain: “There’s a time for casting silver and a time for casting cannon.” “We have been vanquished by an idea, a belief in human rights.”

Surprise! It’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad again.

Songs to Add to Your Playlist: None of the songs for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad have necessarily become iconic but that doesn’t mean they’re not still good. “The Merrily Song” is a fun B-side track about going for just a casual ride. And, pretty much everything in Sleepy Hollow is at least worth a listen. Bing Crosby is an absolute legend with a terrific voice. I’d listen to him sing about anything really. I especially liked “Headless Horseman” where Brom tells the legend to Ichabod and the rest of the party. I’d definitely throw that onto a Halloween party playlist, if I could find it.

As far as revolutionary songs go, “Liberty Tree” from Johnny Tremain is actually pretty dang good. 

It’s closer than you’d think because “Liberty Tree” has been stuck in my head for days now. However, the power of Bing Crosby gave me almost no choice. It’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Most Magical Disney Moment: This is a bit of an unconventional pick, but, for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, I’ve got to go with my favorite scene. I’m, of course, talking about the chase scene with the Headless Horseman. It might be stretching the definition of “Disney magic” a bit, but the amount of fear and suspense they were able to generate using animation, typically thrown away as kiddie stuff, is super impressive. I also liked the fact that Disney was reaching outside of their comfort zone a bit. And, again, the character design on the Horseman… So. Freaking. Cool. 

In Johnny Tremain, celebrating the success of the Boston Tea Party, the Sons of Liberty march through the town singing “Liberty Tree.” Eventually, the whole town joins in as they decorate a tree with lanterns, nail the Stamp Act to it, and continue to sing out that the American spirit is worth fighting for. It’s patriotic as hell. I watched it again on Youtube before typing this up and got pumped all over again. It makes you want to go fight the British yourself. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the last exciting scene in the movie…

While both are moments I’d probably revisit for different holidays (Halloween and Independence Day), I just love the Sleepy Hollow segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad too much to vote for the other.

Legacies: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad kind of broke out of the WWII era film curse and left a pretty good legacy with the Disney Company. It currently has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.0 on IMDB. It didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, but each short gained popularity on their own after being shown on tv and in front of other movies. Strangely enough, the movie won a Golden Globe for Best Cinematography. While there were no sequels made, many of the characters would go on to appear in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. The movie also is fairly well represented in the parks. Mr. Toad is featured in a couple of different parks. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was an opening day attraction at Disneyland, still operating to this day. In it, you speed around in a car with Mr. Toad, causing mayhem everywhere you go. The Disney World version was removed to make way for Winnie the Pooh. However, Mr. Toad still has a presence felt in the park. There’s a painting of him featured in the Pooh ride and he has a tombstone outside of the Haunted Mansion, which reportedly reads “Here lies Toad. It’s sad but it’s true. Not nearly as marketable as Winnie the Pooh.” I say reportedly because the epitaph is currently not visible. There’s also a Toad Hall restaurant at Disneyland Paris and the movie is part of that park’s canal boats. While it doesn’t have any yearlong attractions, the Sleepy Hollow segment always re-emerges at the parks around Halloween time. The Headless Horseman leads the Not So Scary parades and even had a haunted house in Hong Kong. So, yeah, not a bad legacy for a package film. It’s not one of their most popular films (obviously, not as big as Winnie the Pooh), but The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad definitely left a mark.

For such an obscure Disney movie, the legacy of Johnny Tremain is actually kind of interesting. It does not have a score on Rotten Tomatoes, as not enough critics have reviewed it, and currently stands at a 6.5 on IMDB. It was not super successful at the box office. It was eventually split into two episodes for the tv show Disneyland. And, like I mentioned, different segments were sold to schools as educational tools. However, the most lasting legacy of Johnny Tremain is in the Magic Kingdom. While the movie was in the works, Walt Disney planned on basing a whole land on the film in Disneyland. While this never happened, it did heavily influence Liberty Square in Orlando. And, in the center of that land stands the Liberty Tree, which is adorned with thirteen lanterns representing the original colonies. So, in a way, there’s actually a whole land (loosely) based on this film. The more you know…

Semi-obscure references in Disney World aside, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad definitely has the more lasting impact.

AND THE WINNER IS…

THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD

Are you surprised? No? Me neither. While I wanted to like Johnny Tremain, I ultimately just couldn’t. And, both the Wind in the Willows and Sleepy Hollow segments have a lot going for them. The animated films just keep bringing the heat. Not a single live action flick has moved on yet.

So, congratulations, Ichabod, Mr. Toad, and the rest of the crew! We will see you in the next round.

As always, thank you for joining me on this quest. We’re slowly starting to chip away at it. We’ve got eight movies down so far. I’m greatly enjoying myself. I hope you guys are too. Next up, we’ve got two Pixar movies facing off against each other! What? How did this happen? I would figure they’re all higher ranked. It’s A Bug’s Life (yay!) versus… oh, Cars 2. Do we have to do this? Yeah? Fine.

Just kidding. I am looking forward to talking about these movies. I’m just not necessarily excited to re-watching Cars 2. Maybe it’s not as bad as I remember? Hopefully?

See you then!

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