|The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad/
Fun & Fancy Free (1949/1947)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: August 12, 2014) Two animated Disney anthology features1949's "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and 1947's "Fun & Fancy Free"arrive in a spiffy two-pack Blu-ray collection that also, lo and behold, houses a third feature film, 1941's little-known "The Reluctant Dragon." The two main attractions are certainly minor Disney as a whole, the result of cost-cutting efforts and a sudden shortage of animators during World War II, but they are still enjoyable in their own right (and, in one segment's case, worthy of "classic" status).
In the 68-minute "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," two storybooks in a library come to hand-drawn life. The first, "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame, involves the exploits of one J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq., a wealth proprietor whose financial frivolity and reckless auto enthusiasm get him into hot water with the courts when he is accused of car theft. Narrated by Basil Rathbone, the streamlined "The Wind in the Willows" is cheerful but slight, most notable for inspiring the particularly fun "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" attraction at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, lanky, lovelorn schoolteacher Ichabod Crane arrives in the sleepy Hudson Valley region of New York in October 1790. While returning home from a Halloween party, he is menaced by the local legend of a headless horseman. Easily the highlight of "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," this atmospheric tale, narrated by Bing Crosby, was a childhood favorite that still holds up all these years later. The centerpiece scene with the headless horseman remains a chilling tour de force, and the story concludes on a haunting open-ended note.
Next up is the 73-minute "Fun & Fancy Free." Jiminy Crickett (from "Pinocchio") introduces the first of two whimsical fables, "Bongo," based on "Little Bear Bongo" by Sinclair Lewis. When a circus bear escapes captivity, he falls for a sweet female bear named Lulubelle. Their happily-ever-after ending is threatened by brutish alpha bear Lumpjaw, who wants Lulubelle as his own. "Bongo" is frequently delightful, but with one caveat: it is glaringly antiquated in its views of romance and gender roles. The parting messagethat a couple should say they love each other with a slapis bizarrely funny for all the wrong reasons. Introducing the second story is a live-action Edgar Burgen and two nightmarish ventriloquist dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, as they entertain at a little girl's birthday party. The story they spin is "Mickey and the Beanstalk," joining together Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy for an amiable but forgettable telling of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad B+/A-
"The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" arrives on Blu-ray with a satisfying, if imperfect, 1080p transfer. For a 65-year-old film, it looks very cleanperhaps too clean due to a smattering of digital noise reductionbut colors radiate a pleasing old-fashioned warmth, black levels are solid, and detail is noticeably enhanced from past home video versions. There is a bit of softness to the image, but this is less a fault of the transfer and more an accurate representation of the original 1949 theatrical exhibition. There are two audio tracks offereda 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 2.0 Dolby Digitaland they are both very good with nicely balanced levels. The lossless 5.1 track has a hair more force to its music score, and for that it is the preferred one.
Fun & Fancy Free A-/A-
"Fun & Fancy Free" is two years older than "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," but has the slightly crisper, brighter 1080p transfer. Again, DNR is apparent in the smoothness of the animation, but it isn't bothersome. This is a really attractive image, a leap above its dusty standard-definition counterpart. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Dolby Digital are both without any major faults, except to say that they are front-heavy and probably won't blow anyone away who is accustomed to brand-new action extravaganzas busting out their surround speakers.
- The Reluctant Dragon (1:13:36, HD) - a bonus full-length third feature! Released in 1941, this is a delightful, little-known live-action/animated/meta hybrid set at Walt Disney Studios, featuring a cameo from Walt Disney.
Disney's 2-in-1 Blu-ray release of "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and "Fun & Fancy Free" (3-in-1 if you count "The Reluctant Dragon," and you should) is an irresistible deal that should become a mainstay in any Disney fan's high-def library. Heck, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" segment all by itself is worth a purchase and will be perfect for the Halloween season. Highly recommended.
|© 2014 by Dustin Putman