Monday, October 29, 2007

Another Dispatch from Sleepy Hollow

In response to yesterday's post on the Headless Horseman, Jim Korkis passed on some additional information about Disney's adaptation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

I love the Disney version of the Headless Horseman legend. Out here at Walt Disney World, he pops up at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween, on the Haunted Hayride at Ft. Wilderness and of course, instead of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, there were plans for a Headless Horseman dark ride in Fantasyland. The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World is set in the Hudson River Valley area (home of the legend) and Imagineer Ken Anderson's original concept for a haunted house attraction featured an appearance of the Headless Horseman as a climax.

However, Walt was beat to the animated punch by one of his former co-workers, Ub Iwerks. Iwerks produced an animated short entitled "HEADLESS HORSEMAN". Distributed by Pat Powers/Celebrity Productions on October 1, 1934 and directed by Ub Iwerks. Animation by Al Eugster. Cinecolor (two strip Technicolor). Under the banner of Celebrity Productions after he left the Disney Studio, Iwerks produced three cartoon series from 1930 to approximately 1936: Flip the Frog, Willie Whopper and the ComiColor cartoon fables. The ComiColor Cartoon series were primarily adaptations of classic folklore stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, the Headless Horseman and Sindbad the Sailor. They were produced in Cinecolor, a two color process using a combination of red and blue hues . Many of the cartoons were filmed in a three dimensional effect using a crude multiplane camera Iwerks had built using parts from an old Chevrolet automobile for about $300. These technical improvements never compensated for the lack of a strong story and charismatic characters.

(Yes, instead of Snow White, Peter Pan and Mr. Toad, there were plans for Cinderella--to theme in with the castle, Mary Poppins--riding in upside down umbrellas, and Legend of Sleepy Hollow. However, as costs soared, the Disney Company decided to just re-create attractions that had been done before, but ironically the Imagineers changed these attractions so much--Toad had two separate tracks--that it cost as much or more than the new attractions that were planned. )

Ever notice that the reeds that scare Ichabod were actually re-traced from "The Old Mill"?

Jim's email sent me scrambling back to my Ub Iwerks DVD collections where lo and behold, there was the Headless Horseman cartoon of which he spoke. One interesting observation I made while watching the short: it appears Iwerks originally used the gag where, during the final chase, Ichabod flips himself over in front of his horse and attempts to pull the mount forward and away from their fast approaching nemesis. Disney animators employed the same exact gag in their version of the story as well.


Chris said...


Forgive me if you have covered this ground before, but as I was re-watching _The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad_ for Halloween (an annual tradition), I was struck at the number of places where the themes and content of Disney's version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow are relflected in the much later work _Beauty and the Beast_.

Some examples:
-- The similarity in the characters of Brohm Bones and Gaston.
-- The opening numbers "Ichabod Crane" and "Belle" both feature the lead characters making their way through a small villiage with their noses stuck in books while the townspeople comment.
-- Ichabod Crane rides alone into the spooky woods on horseback after the VanTassel's party, where he meets the Headless Horseman. Maurice rides a horse-drawn wagon alone at night on a spooky "short-cut" through the woods, where he is confronted by wolves.

Coincidence, or direct homage on the part of the Disney animators?

- Chris in NC