Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Review

Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Review

Oct 13, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, 1949
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It was the very witching hour of midnight when Ichabod pursued his travel home
The sky grew darker and darker as one by one the stars winked out their lights
The driving clouds obscured the moon from sight
Never had the schoolmaster felt so melancholy. . .so utterly alone

And with those words from the legendary Bing Crosby who narrated this timeless classic, Ichabod Crane begins his journey through the dreaded wooded home of the headless horseman.

Disney’s adaptation of  Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was originally packaged in a film called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and coupled with a version of The Wind in the Willows starring Mr. Toad. After its initial release, Disney cut the two segments to run individually. It was not until a later home video release that the two were packaged together once again in the form of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It was one of those individual showings of Sleepy Hollow that I, as a young boy, first viewed the story with wide eyes.

Disney has made a career of walking the line between funny and scary in all of its “haunted” endeavors. For the Haunted Mansion attraction lovers out there, the stories are legendary of how creators Marc Davis and Claude Coats slightly disagreed on whether the attraction should be more spooky or kooky. When it was all said and done, it seems they created a perfect balance between the two (interestingly, one of the first design concepts for the Haunted Mansion was a continuation of the story of Ichabod Crane). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow also finds the perfect balance of fright and delight. The image of Ichabod himself lets the viewer know we shouldn’t be taking this too seriously, but the build up to his encounter with the Headless Horseman is, at times, very creepy. Children will be scared just enough to keep watching, perhaps with one eye covered. Could this animated feature be a reason why I love horror so much today? Very possible.

One of the best features of Disney’s Sleep Hollow, and perhaps one of the most surprising, is its remarkable faithfulness to Irving’s original story. It is not exaggeration to suggest that this little animated feature from the Walt Disney company is one of the most faithful to the original story of any movie ever produced on Ichabod’s fight with the headless spectre. Two of the essential elements remain in this version, those being a romantic telling of the story and an ambiguous ending. Disney actually leaves the viewer wondering whether or not Ichabod survived the flaming pumpkin head being hurled at him across the bridge of safety. Such a conclusion is a rare thing for an animated children’s tale.

The visual payoff is well worth the wait in Sleepy Hollow. From start to finish the animation is crisp and effective, but the animators give us something special at the unveiling of the Headless Horseman. I’m not sure there is a more visually engaging scene in any animated feature. Although technology has certainly advanced the options for animators today, I would put Sleepy Hollow up against any modern feature in terms of its effectiveness and mood.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the song Brom Bones sings at the Van Tassel farm during the famous Van Tassel Fall Festival (incidentally, Brom was the inspiration for the famous Disney character Gaston from Beauty and the Beast). His song occurs just before the end of the party when Ichabod would be traveling home through the forest. It takes the viewer about 6 times watching the movie to finally catch on that the background singers, mostly female, are an essential part of the song. Unfortunately you cannot make out what they are singing very well. This is significant because at one point these background vocalists sing the most important part of the story:

Brom:  “For once you cross that bridge my friends…..”
Background Voices:  “the ghost is through, his power ends.”
(Watch the video below at 3:00 to hear this part of the song)

So, without those background voices, we would miss that the Headless Horseman loses his power across the bridge. That is my only complaint with the film, although after you know what the background voices actually say, it becomes a fun part of the movie.

Disney’s version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow remains, after all these years, the best. Do yourself a favor – go watch it.

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