Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Heads Up for a Disney Classic

Every year about this time, Bart and I watch the Disney animated short of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Last night proved to be this year’s “when.”

As far as Disney adaptations go, Ichabod Crane is one of their best. Why? Because the character designs are a delight and you get to hear Bing Crosby croon a little. Oh no wait, actually it's because it’s quite faithful to the Washington Irving tale. Anyone who knows me (or has been following along with my posts) is aware that I’m a purist. In this case, Disney’s cartoon does not veer much from Irving’s tale. And still they manage to insert many signature House of Mouse visual quips. Truth be told, I am also rather fond of the bit they added that (it often seems) has become ingrained into the story: the flaming Jack-O-Lantern thrown through the covered bridge. It’s just so appealing and if thought of in the right frame of mind is actually kind of terrifying. The best part about it, though, is that it’s not entirely foreign to Irving. At the end of his story we’re told all that had been found left remaining of poor frightened Ichabod had been his hat and smashed pumpkin. It pleases me that they were able to take part of the story and expand on it so well.

I’ll also admit that the envisioning of the Headless Horseman himself (as well as his steed) is equally appealing. Quite spectre-like indeed. There’s something grand about the simplicity in the animation, a shadowy depth of a menace. However, there’s also a part of me that likes to imagine him as realistic as possible, as in wearing the traditional uniform of a Hessian soldier from the Revolutionary War era.

I wound up looking that up once... and then wound up describing the outfit in detail on the page. No, I didn't decide to do a version of Sleepy Hollow... rather I liked the character so much that I borrowed him to pit against Jeremy in a scene within What If It's a Trick Question? which culminates on Halloween night.   I put my own twist on it, of course, and I've been told by a few people they rather like the scene.  It's one person's favorite in the whole book.

I also want to point out that aside from Disney's flaming pumpkin, this is another tale that years of retellings have embellished to the point of people often thinking certain parts are in fact in part of the original - such as Brom actually dressing up like the Headless Horseman to scare Ichabod [prior the real Horseman showing up later.]

And last night, while watching, something else struck me in Disney's - the colors of the clothes.  As if back in the day they had such vibrant and excessive pigments on each article of clothing.  Sure, it's possible, but it's also the cartoon trying to be visually engaging.  This probably only came to mind since I recently looked into the clothing of that era in regards to research for the new novel I'm developing.

I guess you can gather that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite tales.  And how great that it's a bonafide folktale... in a real place!  Spooky.

Some points I've made are clarified in the comments... especially regarding the 'interpretation' of Irving's actual narrative elements that would otherwise appear as if I 'missed the point.' 


Anon said...

Um...did we read the same story...?

Peter Von Brown said...

I'd imagine so... ;)

You gave me a little bit of a stir with that comment, as I last read it many a year ago...so I just had another reading of it.

Oh, there's lots missing all right - but nothing that (no offense to Irving) can't be dispensed with in a case like a cartoon only some 30 minutes long. He's got a delightfully ridiculous amount of descriptions of people, places, events, food... But if we could distill Irving's words to their essence, then Disney didn't miss a drop. All the key points are there, granted presented in a whimsical fashion. The bare bones of it is intact. And it's obvious they paid attention to those descriptions such as Brom's cap, the appearance of Ichabod and the way the trees loom to name a few. I'm actually pleased as punch to have just been reminded of how many of Irving's actual lines/words are spoken in the animation. And on that idea, I also think it's great that they went with a narrator for the tale. That's obviously one of the major components of Irving, hence, it's included.

In comparison to many other Disney animated adaptations, it's top notch.

Perhaps you found it a bit too cutesy for a tale that can be construed as very dark? Not scary enough for you? Well, it's a Disney cartoon... not that they can't be and haven't had their share of truly terrifying moments. But it feels like they're having fun with it - the way the people of Sleepy Hollow relish in their legend (in the story.) Perhaps if Walt had created a feature length movie as opposed to a short he could have woven in more of a build up and scariness.

All in all, I stand by what I said. Disney did a great job with the spooky tale of the Galloping Hessian of the Hollow.

Anon said...

I may have to read it again, but I was under the impression that 1) the pumpkin being thrown at Ichabod's head WAS in the original story (though I don't think we find out that it IS a pumpkin until after the fact), 2) it's implied (though not stated outright) that the "Headless Horseman" IS Brom Bones in disguise, and 3) Disney essentially reversed the roles of Ichabod and Brom Bones--the idea being that Brom was a country bumpkin bested at everything cultural by Ichabod Crane, who was a big phony.

Peter Von Brown said...

Yes, do read it again. :)
Just for the sake of reading it again... and then watch the Disney short right after. It's several places on the 'net. You'll (I hope) see what I mean about its core and many details being intact.

As for your points/remembrances - two of them are a matter of interpretation, I suppose.
Yes, the Headless Horseman does throw something at Ichabod, namely his head. That could indeed be just the pumpkin and Ichabod's imagination and penchant to be scared. But the idea of it flaming... though it can be argued as derivative of the hell-ish descriptions of the Hessian, Disney added - and I've seen/heard it done in other places and that's what I meant.

And yes, Brom is said to be full of tricks and he and his gang play them on Ichabod. And yes, it even says he "bursts a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin" and that he might know more than he lets on... but it also says that he is merely a suspect.

As for a 'role reversal' I don't see that at all. Brom is presented just as he's described in the tale. (As is Ichabod.) And Brom's normal "popular stud" status is threatened by this "alluring nerd" so to speak.

So yeah, it's possible, nay probable that Brom Bones had been in disguise as the Headless Horseman. But it's also written in a way to allow for the Hessian being real. Sort of a 'decide for yourself' way. And even so, assuming that Brom did play the Horseman, the oft-used idea that I'm refering to is the outright exposure of Brom as the Hessian, laughing with his cohorts... only to have the real spectre show up later.

It would seem that a lot of people would prefer that the Legend of the Galloping Ghost were true... including the townspeople [story-wise] and I for one do prefer to interpret it as a real entity [story-wise.]

Hence, I rather enjoy Walt's combining the actual manifestation of the ghost with the (now hell-ish)pumpkin.

Peter Von Brown said...

And besides, there's nothing (that I recall) in the Disney cartoon that doesn't allow for it to be Brom all along as well - if that's how one chooses to enjoy the tale.