Walt Disney was responsible for so many cartoon classics. One that is too often forgotten is the perfect Halloween experience for viewers of all ages. This is the “mini-classic folktale,” The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949), featuring Bing Crosby as the singing narrator.
Based on Washington Irving’s 1819 short story, this thirty-three minute short tells the story of Ichabod Crane, the new gangly schoolteacher in the small rural upstate New York hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod soon charms the entire community including buxom Katrina Van Tassel, the original Saint Pauley’s girl and the daughter of the richest farmer in the district. But the local bully, Brom Bones, also wants Katrina and soon a rivalry develops with the teacher winning all the early battles. In the movie’s conclusion, Brom gains his revenge over the superstitious “pedantic pedagogue” with a vivid and terrifying ghost story about a headless horseman.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow utilizes comedy, superior animation, and Bing Crosby to create a memorable movie. There are funny lyrics like this description of Ichabod: “Who’s that coming down the street – are they shovels or are they feet?”; visual humor (the short, heavy-set girl manhandling brawny Brom Bones at the dance); and Bing’s self-deprecating teasing of his own crooning with Ichabod’s “Ba ba ba boom” to a group of swooning female admirers.
The Disney studio’s Technicolor animation successfully balances humor and horror, thanks to the contributions of such craftsmen as Ollie Johnson, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, and Wolfgang Reitherman. The bright, colorful early autumn scenes and the frightening climax all exhibit superior primary and secondary characters as well as imaginative gestures, backgrounds, and atmosphere. Crosby’s warm, mellow narration contributes wit, texture, and personality to Ichabod’s character and the entire film. Be it serious or silly, Bing’s soothing voice is always unforgettable while, as Barbara Bauer stated in her book, Bing Crosby: The Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies, his “charming, casual, crooning style . . . disarms us.”
Clyde Geronimi and Jack Kinney directed the movie. Winston Hibler, Erdman Penner, James Algar, and Joe Rinaldi contributed to the script while Oliver Wallace, Gene DePaul, and Don Raye were responsible for the words and music. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was originally half of Disney’s eleventh animated movie, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The other half of this cartoon classic was The Wind in the Willows narrated by Basil Rathbone.
The story has been filmed numerous times. The 1980 TV version with Jeff Goldblum, former football star Dick Butkus, and Meg Foster in the three leads is an extremely entertaining movie while Tim Burton’s inspired and creative Sleepy Hollow (1999) is a beautiful, but gory version with Johnny Depp as a bumbling city policeman investigating a series of murders.
But it is Disney and Bing’s cartoon that remains the standard. Online IMDB movie critic, Ferruccio Bariavento, correctly declared, “It is one of those simple, underrated and forgotten Disney classics from the 40s . . . Ichabod Crane is probably the most original character ever created by Disney . . . his simplicity, charm, and pacific personality are what really makes the difference.” So celebrate Halloween by watching this forgotten gem, and be prepared for thirty-three minutes of pleasurable entertainment.