Thursday, October 27, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Ah! Now that's some good Halloween-ing. The mellow voice of Bing Crosby, the delightful prose of Washington Irving and some of Disney's finest scene designs and animation. The autumnal backgrounds are also quite lovely to look at-- Mary Blair did some of the color styling on this film, and they look very similar to her work.  This short was originally the second part of the 1949 anthology film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but I don't think I've ever seen it in that format. In fact, I doubt I've ever seen the Mr. Toad part of the film at all, although I once did go on the Disney World ride based on it.

Some nice cartoony slapstick business that doesn't interfere too much with Irving's comedically formal prose.  And I love Crosby's droll delivery.

The climactic chase is a masterpiece of design, rising tension and animated action. They pull out all the stops to create suspense. Credits for Ichabod and Mr. Toad list three directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronomi and James Algar. That makes it difficult for an animation neophyte like myself to praise the efforts of any one person. And don't forget the actual animators, layout artists and background painters responsible for these eerily effective and yet still hilarious visuals.  They're too numerous to list, but the supremely talented Blair contributed some amazing conceptual paintings and Disney greats Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston (they were best friends, which warms my heart to no end), John Lounsbery and Wolfgang Rietherman supervised or else actually did the animation for this sequence; they're listed as directors of animation for these characters.  Reitherman's Headless Horseman is especially impressive.  What a menacing character throughout!

I've tried to be as thorough in my ignorance of this stuff-- I like to watch 'em, I don't make 'em-- as I could, but some super scholar or animation pedagogue to rival Ichabod himself may feel free to set me straight on this if I've gotten any of it wrong. Even if I react much like Brom Bones.

The sound design matches the imagery for impressive creativity (so much so Tim Burton later referenced it in his own Sleepy Hollow), while Crosby's narration is brilliant in the way he drops the vocal twinkle employed in the earlier, purely comedic sequences and becomes mournfully atmospheric; it's almost as if a beloved uncle-- well-known for his masterful storytelling-- is relating Ichabod's fate, employing every vocal tool at his disposal. Disney's take on Irving's story is the finest version of this often-adapted tale, the one all others attempt to measure up to and fall short by varying degrees. What doesn't fall short of anything, anywhere, is this Halloween-themed performance video featuring Spookey, inspiration of my annual Spookey Month. I know I've posted this one before but it's sooooooo good!

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