The show scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. It’s Walt Disney’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow,” and a wonderful retelling of the Ichabod Crane story and his encounter with the Headless Horseman. Clearly, it’s the stuff of delicious nightmares and I confess I loved every minute. America’s premiere crooner, Bing Crosby was Walt’s choice to narrate the film story. It was an unusual, yet inspired choice to use the vocal talents of “Derr Bingle.” Crosby’s mellow, orotund voice seemed to provide just the right touch. It allowed the audience to relax and settle in before being taken on the ride of their lives. I was a kid who adored Disney cartoons, so I found the animation experience rapturous.
The sequence opens with a leisurely tour of the town of Sleepy Hollow before being introduced to the quirky school teacher, Ichabod Crane. We enjoy Ichabod’s interaction with the townspeople, his romance with Katrina Von Tassel and his rivalry with the handsome, Brom Bones. However, it’s the Halloween party at the Von Tassel home that sets the stage for the creepy events to come. Bing Crosby provides the singing voice of Brom Bones as he tells the tale of the frightening night rider known to townspeople as, The Headless Horseman. The usually unflappable Ichabod Crane slowly begins to freak out as Bones spins a blood curdling tale of the horror lurking in the nearby woods. By the time the party ends, poor ichabod Crane is a basket case.
When the school teacher mounts his trusty steed for the long ride home, I can honestly say the Disney animation artists truly hold their own with the finest of Hollywood’s horror filmmakers. Rarely have I experienced such a sense of dread and foreboding than in this remarkable sequence that would give the horror master, Alfred Hitchcock a run for his money. Of course, the art direction is classic Disney at its best. Swirling, dark clouds resemble demonic hands eager to snuff out the moonlight. Knarled tree branches reach out to grab the unsuspected, and sounds of the night time woods create an atmosphere of impending doom. Is all this the result of Ichabod’s over active imagination, or will the dreaded Headless Horseman actually reveal himself? As you can imagine, the Disney hand drawn animation is a mix of hilarious humor, rich imagination and the best of classic Hollywood horror films. We left the theater that evening delightfully entertained, and I was more determined than ever to one day work for Walt Disney.