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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Now for by far my favorite Disney short of all time: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I grew up with this story, as I'm sure most of you have. Why is it one of my favorites? Besides being one of my favorite spooky stories, it is also narrated by Bing Cosby, a singer who I could identify even when I was very little. Is it scary? Yes, even now the headless horseman freaks me out, but it's also a bit comical, especially in the scenes preceding the meeting of the horseman and Ichabod. I'm used to seeing only up to the Van Tassel's Halloween party and further, due to that was the section included in Disney's Halloween Treat. If you are able to find a copy of it, get it. It is a classic set of shorts. Our copy is videotaped from TV in 1986. Is the party and the chase the best part? Yes, but it is a great short as a whole. Especially if you like Bing Cosby.

Crosby details the sleepy little town called Sleepy Hollow, but explains that sometimes it can be a bit foreboding. The town has a new schoolmaster in Ichabod Crane, a tall lanky man that is the talk of the town for his odd appearance. Ichabod is the complete opposite of local bully, Brom Bones. Brom is a strong, stubborn man who seeks to torment Crane. Despite his appearance, Ichabod proves to be quite the ladies man, getting the attention of the eligible ladies in the town. Then Ichabod sees Katrina Van Tassel. She is a beautiful and wealthy to boot. Ichabod is in love, though it's not quite clear which part of her he is more in love with, her money or looks. He attempts to court Katrina, but Brom is the supposedly intended mate for her. Brom attempts to foil Ichabod's courting, but to no avail. It's at the Van Tassel Halloween party that Brom sees his chance. He notices that Ichabod is incredibly superstitious and proceeds to tell the story of the Headless Horseman. This of course has Ichabod chomping at the bits. Ichabod leaves the party and has to travel home through the dark woods. The very same woods that the Horseman supposedly haunts. Both him and his horse think they see the horseman, but realize that they are being silly. They start laughing hysterically. That's when the real (?) horseman shows up and gives chase. After a long chase through the woods, sometimes in circles, Ichabod remembers that all he has to do is cross the covered bridge and the horseman will disappear. He does this and turns to see a flaming pumpkin flying right at him. We see the covered bridge the next morning, only seeing the smashed pumpkin and a hat. Brom and Katrina marry shortly after, and many think that the school teacher married a rich woman and had many children in a town down the road. But there are some that believe that the Headless Horseman spirited Ichabod away that Halloween night. I love the ambiguous ending. As the viewer you are not sure if it's the real horseman, or merely Brom trying to scare Ichabod away. Or maybe it was the real Horseman and Ichabod was spirited away. I guess we'll never know.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was written by Washington Irving in 1820. Irving is also known for his novel Rip Van Winkle and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The latter, by the way, is completely false. I'll write about it sometime, but Irving gives Revere way too much credit. Anyway, Irving took the legend of the Headless Horseman from it's birthplace in Germany and put it's backdrop in Dutch Post-Revolution New York. There is an actual Sleepy Hollow that was used for the backdrop of the story. At that time, it was called North Tarrytown, the same name as the larger city that Sleepy Hollow inhabits in the story. The town, in real life, decided to change its name to Sleepy Hollow in honor of Washington Irving. The church used in the story is even based on the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, NY. It is said that Irving probably got the names for the characters from locals he knew, though many believe that the name Ichabod Crane came from an army captain that Irving met. Irving even based the main character off of a school teacher he knew that taught in Kinderhook. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows the tradition of folklore and poems including a wild supernatural chase.

There is actually very little difference between the two stories. Of the differences, one relates to the story of the Headless Horseman. In the short story, the Headless Horseman was a Hessian (German Mercenary) soldier whose head was knocked off by a stray cannonball during a battle in the American Revolutionary War. Ever since, the Hessian's ghost rides every night in search of a head. The second difference is the loss of ambiguity to the ending. It's said at the end of the short story that when Ichabod is spoken of, Brom Bones is said to look knowing. In other words, he is the assumed Headless Horseman. A lot less mystery, which I think makes the story less interesting. Sure that's the most logical explanation, but the other explanation is so cool!

Thus ends the long line of package films that were released in the 1940's. Onto the bigger, and for the most part, better full length films.

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