Monday, November 7, 2011

#11: Lessons learned, sort of.

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, 1949
watched October 30, 2011

Suffice it to say, war sucks. I am so glad the war is over and that we're moving on to movies with real stories! This is the last of the 6 "package" films, hooray!

Both of the main characters in this movie have major flaws. In fact, I'm not sure either was actually likeable. This is a stark contrast from the exceedingly loveable main character archetype that I have formed in my mind. Typically, we never doubt that the main character has good intentions. Even Pinocchio, who gets himself into a lot of trouble, at least seems to try to be good. But both J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. and Ichabod Crane have some real problems and are quite unapologetic about them. And although they do experience some lesson-learning, we're never quite sure if they've experienced a true change of heart.

I'll start with Mr. Toad.
(c) Disney - anyone think it's strange that Mr. Toad is pink?
J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq., a wealthy adventurous fellow (if toads can be fellows... I suppose they can if they have a British accent and the title "Esquire"), suffers from what the narrator calls "manias". In other words, he's a complete sucker for the latest fads. The bulk of the story revolves around his obsession to get himself a new "motorcar," which, not surprisingly, lands him in a lot of trouble. He is arrested for stealing a car and winds up in jail, but then breaks out with the help of Cyril, his horse. His friends then try to help him recover his home, Toad Hall - which he had traded for the motorcar (we find out that the car had been stolen by the evil Mr. Winky and his henchmen weasels, so therefore they do not rightfully own Toad Hall). Although all is set right, the segment ends with Mr. Toad flying a new airplane, suggesting that perhaps after all of that hullabaloo, nothing has really changed.

The message here is fairly obvious. Mr. Toad represents those who aren't quite satisfied with what they have, longing for the next, newest, bigger, better, faster, shinier ____. <-- You can fill in the blank.

All of us have a vice, or a mania, if you will. If it's not the latest iPhone, it could be a promotion or raise at work, a cute new coat we saw at our favorite store (I know I've got my eye on one at the moment), or maybe an upgrade to some part of our house or car. Whether or not we admit it, we are all Mr. Toads with some kind of current "mania". We blame advertising companies or peer pressure, but really it's because we're simply human. From the very beginning, humanity has been searching for something just out of our reach, and as a result, well... it makes Mr. Toad's episode seem like not such a big deal.

Rather than having Mr. Toad reform as in the original story (The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame), Disney chose to leave Mr. Toad's outcome a bit open-ended. While we feel glad that his home is recovered and that the "bad guys" are brought to justice, it's not quite clear if we should be glad that Mr. Toad is still up to his old tricks, gallivanting around with the next craze. Could any of this have to do with the fact that the world was just emerging from a history-altering war? Perhaps they were feeling a little bit ambivalent about the goodness of humanity. This is just speculation, but either way, I find myself puzzled at the end of Mr. Toad's adventure. I suppose this is my yearning for happy endings, not just in circumstance but in character arcs. But perhaps Mr. Toad's story represents a lot of our own experiences. We learn lessons over and over again, and yet change does not necessarily take place. Is this just the human condition?

Let me move on to Ichabod Crane.
(c) Disney

Ichabod Crane is basically an ugly, tall, lanky version of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. At least that's what the opening scene made me think of. (He's walking through town while reading a book, as the townspeople sing about how strange he is. Sound familiar?) There are a few distinctions, however. We learn that Mr. Crane, while a bit eccentric, is quite fond of food and women. Inexplicably he has a charming way about him that makes Sleepy Hollow's ladies swoon. When he meets Katrina Van Tassel, he is motivated both by her beauty as well as her father's deep pockets, and sets out to win her affections. 

Things seem to be going well, but at a Halloween party, his competitor, Brom Bones (who oddly enough bears some resemblance to Gaston, hah!) discovers that Ichabod is extremely superstitious. Brom then tells a spooky tale of the legendary Headless Horseman who comes out on Halloween night searching for his head (or something like that. I couldn't quite understand all the lyrics. Because yes, this was all done in song of course.) On his way home, Ichabod can't shake the feeling that the Headless Horseman is nearby. After several false alarms, the Headless Horseman actually does appear, chasing Ichabod and his horse all the way to the bridge. The scene is quite frightening, and we're left not really sure if he escaped, or if Ichabod Crane was killed by the Headless Horseman. 
(c) Disney - scary, right?

Ichabod Crane's "adventure" is based on Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I was unfamiliar with the story, so of course I looked it up on wikipedia. :) Apparently, in the original, the implication is that the Headless Horseman was actually a disguised Brom Bones, who later marries Katrina. I totally guessed that while we were watching this version, but we are never actually told by the filmmakers one way or another. How annoying. I need closure, people!

As the protagonist, I expect Ichabod to experience the happy ending. But since he is kind of a creepy dude, I feel a little bit ambivalent about his eerie disappearance. It's not like I was rooting for the Headless Horseman and/or Brom Bones though, so really, it was a confusing way to end the tale.

Ichabod's experience is even less understandable than Mr. Toad's, by way of values or lessons we learn from him. I want to be able to say, "So...therefore, we've learned, don't be superstitious!" But, I guess not all literature is meant to have a neat and tidy "moral of the story."

So my analysis here leaves me a bit baffled. I'd love to hear other thoughts on what we can learn from Mr. Toad and/or Ichabod Crane. Anyone?

1 comment:

  1. This movie has one of my favorite Disney songs, "Nowhere in Particular!" I love the line "We're merrily on our way to no-where in particular" and consider it my aspirational theme song.