For the most part, I learned about the Robin Hood legend from the animated Disney movie from the 1970s in which the animals were portraying the characters. Disney also introduced me to another work of literature with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Released in 1949, the animated movie was a two-parter first focusing on Thaddeus Toad going to prison for theft of a stolen car even though he was set up to turn over Toad Hall. It’s a nice little adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, but having to condense a book into about half an hour of entertainment leaves a lot out.
The characters are mostly known now for their use at the Disney themed attractions and other animated productions. The other half of the movie takes Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and gives it a more family-friendly spin.
Most of the movie is told through narration by Bing Crosby or through singing from its characters. I have read Irving’s famous short story which took a more serious approach to the story, which is about the Headless Horseman, the spirit of a Hessian killed during the American Revolutionary Way terrorizing people in the glen known as Sleepy Hollow outside the town of Tarrytown in upstate New York. The fact that there is a Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow in real life give the story more realism.
However, some have argued the story really is about the village bully Brom Bones scaring away any potential suitors so he can eventually marry the lovely Katrina Van Tassel whose father, Baltus, is the richest and wealthiest in the area. As Baltus’ son-in-law, Brom will have father’s wealth inheritance through marriage. So, he scares off the young school master, Ichabod Crane, with the Headless Horseman legend.
Whether or not Irving’s story was meant to either be a scary story or not, it has been retold time and time again varying in tones. Tim Burton tackled the story in the 1999 violent horror flick Sleepy Hollow were the Horseman acted as vengeful spirit going after the elders of the area. Back when he was starting out, Jeff Goldblum played Ichabod in a TV movie adaptation in 1980. It’s not the best, even though Goldblum seems to fit the mold of how Ichabod is described. There’s even a version of the legend in The Real Ghostbusters which explains that the Headless Horsemen terrorizes ancestors of Ichabod. Since it was released in the 1980s, the Horseman now rides a motorcycle.
Disney’s version turns Ichabod into a goofy character who has an insatiable appetite for food and becomes popular around town. He becomes smitten with Katrina who also takes a liking to him. This leads to Brom retelling the Headless Horseman story at a Halloween party at the Van Tassel household where Ichabod is a guest after Brom notices Ichabod through some spilt salt over his shoulder.
Then as Ichabod returns home on his horse, Gunpowder, through Sleepy Hollow, he is terrorized by the Horseman who laughs maniacally. While these scenes are scary, Disney makes sure they are a little comical. It’s Disney, remember?
What happens to Ichabod after he crosses a bridge and gets a flaming pumpkin thrown at him is left ambiguous. Irving wrote that since Ichabod was a bachelor and “in no one’s debt,” his disappearance was easily forgotten. The Disney version gives a hint that Ichabod left Tarrytown and found a wife elsewhere and settled down.
It’s Disney, remember?
Regardless of whether Ichabod lives, dies or is spirited away into the next world by the Horseman, those at the House of Mouse put on one heckuva retelling of the story. I’m sure a lot of young kids who sat through the pleasant Toad story were a little frightened. But if anything else, it’s a nice reminder that sometimes you need to scare yourself silly.
I very highly recommend you watch the whole 1949 movie which is available currently on Disney-Plus.