Here are Bing Crosby, the popular American singer, and Basil Rathbone, the popular British actor, who are here to guide us through the shelves of this library and tell us the stories of Mister Toad and Ichabod Crane, two literary characters from either side of the Atlantic who they each believe exemplify the best their respective nations have to offer in the realm of fiction. Mr Toad's tale is up first, an account of how his love for travelling at high speeds landed him and his three friends in danger, while second is Ichabod who arrived in Tarry Town to fill the position of teacher there, but as an outsider was never going to be as accepted as he would have liked, though his endeavours wound up in spooky circumstances...
This was one of those anthology movies that a cash-strapped Disney studio released in the nineteen-forties, not willing to spend the budget on full length stories when it was cheaper to condense them into just over half an hour and stick them together on what effectively was a double bill combined into seventy minutes or so. As it turned out, this was the last of them as the company's fortunes improved throughout the fifties and they were able to focus more attention on telling a longer form animated yarn. Maybe because this was rumoured not to have made much of a profit, was another reason these two-for-one episodes fell out of favour there: audiences liked to feel as if they had seen a full feature.
Not two half-features, as it were, but while not at the forefront of Disney's classics, Ichabod and Mr Toad did pick up a fair following eventually, thanks to the appreciation of the adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, a classic of children's literature that it would be difficult for them to mess up. The second half was less loved, thanks to really the only good bit being when the titular character meets The Headless Horseman on his way home from a Halloween party, and that was regarded as terrifying to many little children at the time, and indeed for decades after when its full-blooded telling was seen as strong stuff, too strong in many quarters, especially as Ichabod may not have survived.
It did make for a neat Halloween treat, well that latter part anyway, and in a similar fashion the Wind in the Willows was a neat Christmas treat since it took place around that time of year as Mr Toad (voiced by Eric Blore, a great choice) is swindled out of Toad Hall and sent to prison for stealing a motor car to feed his speed addiction. His friends Rat, Mole and "Angus MacBadger" (with a curious Scottish inflection) seek to assist, but when it seems he is guilty they can only step back: however, all is not as it seems, and those weasels may have something to do with his incarceration, not to put too fine a point on it, he was framed! With the animation fluid and vividly coloured, even atmospheric, particularly as winter makes its presence felt, this was a condensed but well-staged version.
After Basil (who would be paid tribute over three decades later by Disney with The Great Mouse Detective) has promoted Grahame's finest achievement in writing, it’s time for Bing to bring Washington Irving's most famous story, unless you're a big Rip Van Winkle fan, to us as he sings his way around the angular protagonist’s life, complete with bah-buh-buh-boms where deemed appropriate. The main issue here, and it has been a bone of contention ever since the initial release, was whether Ichabod was the hero or not, for he seems a very avaricious and greedy soul who is only out to better himself through marriage, while his enemy, Brom Bones, is a bully who has his sights set on the same woman Ichabod is wooing, and may even be behind the climactic encounter with that horseman. This is the highlight by far, as almost everyone in this half was strangely unappealing, so it was good to go out on some well-crafted horror in cartoon form. If this didn't eclipse Mr Toad, they both made for a decent enough entertainment.