Many years ago in the far-away land of Santa Barbara, this starry-eye kid went to a screening of Walt Disney’s “Ichabod and Mr. Toad at the California Theater in the downtown district. Needless to say, I was enchanted by the delightful Disney motion picture. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Ichabod animated sequence and the droll, casual narration of crooner, Bing Crosby, it was the “Mr. Toad” seqment of the motion picture that I remember most fondly. My parents even bought me a Disney publication that featured some of the most beautiful storybook illustrations I had ever seen. The book was illustrated by the legendary, John Hench who had also painted backgrounds for the Disney film. I still remember, even to this day, how much that gorgeous Disney storybook art influenced me, and the effect it would have on my career for years to come.
In many ways, I regret that Mr. Toad and his misadventures never became a full length Disney motion picture. The story, even to this day, still holds up remarkably well. Not only is Toad a compelling character, but the storytelling in the sequence is full of wit, invention and well developed characters. Adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” the animated film could easily be called one of Walt Disney’s most sophisticated efforts of the nineteen forties. A period when Walt’s animated film studio was still struggling to recover from a world war and a devisive labor action. However, this animated adaptation was a Disney delight and even included clever, waggish narration by British actor, Basil Rathbone. Since they were unable to launch a full length animated feature, the studio did their best by producing a series of animated anthologies. Some view this period as dark and lackluster, but Walt, even back then, had plans for a full recovery. In time, money would become available and the Walt Disney Studio could move ahead with a new slate of animated films.
But, that was then, and this is now. Today, I look back on that difficult period as Walt Disney struggled to return his studio to its days of creative glory. However, even in the studio’s darkest days, Walt and his creative team had the chops and resiliance to create marvelous storytelling efforts as “Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” So, today I celebrate Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” and the amazing, marvelous adventures of Mr. Toad. A story that delighted me as a child and continues to entertain me even today.