Fifty years before Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci tackled Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999), Bing Crosby narrated the Gothic horror story for Walt Disney in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. For many, it's become a Halloween staple on par with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Here are a few things you may not have known about the creepy classic.
1. IT WAS INTENDED TO BE A FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.
In 1946, Disney animators at work on an animated version of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow realized they didn’t have enough material for the full-length feature they had planned. Rather than stretch the storyline thin, they decided to couple the short with another movie that was originally slated to be a full-length film: The Wind in the Willows. Work on the adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame book had been halted when World War II broke out, allocating Disney’s resources and budgets elsewhere.
2. BROM BONES INSPIRED ANOTHER CLASSIC DISNEY CHARACTER.
Animator Andreas Deja has said that Gaston, the macho villain from Beauty and the Beast, was influenced by Katrina Van Tassel’s burly suitor. “[Brom] is a rich character, full of confidence and full of himself. Milt's animation shows just the right amount of dash and bounce. Although the style of the film is pretty cartoony, Brom Bones's physique required careful and somewhat realistic draftsmanship in terms of anatomy ... This was great inspiration for myself, when I started work on Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.”
3. THE MOVIE MARKS BING CROSBY'S ONLY COLLABORATION WITH DISNEY.
Despite the wholesome, family entertainment reputations upheld by both parties, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the only time Bing Crosby and Disney worked together.
4. THE "HEADLESS HORSEMAN" SONG WAS FIRST PERFORMED BY TONY THE TIGER.
Before Crosby signed on, voiceover artist and longtime Disney collaborator Thurl Ravenscroft was tapped to sing the “Headless Horseman” song, even recording a version that's decidedly creepier than Bing's. The Ravenscroft rendition was later released on Walt Disney Records Archive Collection, Vol. 1. Ravenscroft, of course, also went on to sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
5. THE SHORT ONCE INCLUDED AN ANIMATED HOMAGE TO WASHINGTON IRVING.
When The Legend of Sleepy Hollow made its television debut on the Disneyland TV show in 1955, it included a new 14-minute animated segment about the life and times of author Washington Irving. It hasn’t been made available to the public since, but you can see a bit of the intro above.
6. THE ENDING IS LESS AMBIGUOUS IN THE ORIGINAL NOVEL.
Though the cartoon (and most of the other Sleepy Hollow adaptations) leaves Ichabod’s fate rather murky, Washington Irving’s novel is more blunt: Ichabod survives the encounter, goes on to become a lawyer, and becomes a justice of the Ten Pound Court.
7. BROM BONES'S INVOLVEMENT IS ALSO A BIT MORE OBVIOUS.
Though the cartoon hints that Brom Bones was masquerading as the Headless Horseman in order to scare Ichabod away from Katrina, Irving spells it out a little more in his original work: "Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival's disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell."
8. ALL OF DISNEY'S NINE OLD MEN WERE INVOLVED IN THE FILM.
Walt Disney's nine legendary animators all helped bring Ichabod and the Headless Horseman to life. Most of them served as directing animators, with Les Clark serving as an animator.
9. THE CARTOON'S COMPOSER MADE A UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION TO THE SHORT.
Composer Oliver Wallace worked for Disney for 27 years, contributing work to more than 100 projects. As he wrote the score for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Wallace recorded himself whistling to show how Ichabod was trying to keep his composure even as the spooky sounds of the forest make him more and more hysterical.
10. ONE DISNEY EMPLOYEE RELEASED A VERSION 15 YEARS EARLIER.
Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse, split with longtime friend and collaborator Walt Disney and opened his own studio in 1930. Among Iwerks's long list of shorts was The Headless Horseman (1934), a 10-minute film made with his own creation, the multiplane camera. By 1940, he and Disney had resolved their differences, and Iwerks found himself back on the payroll, eventually working on the visual effects crew for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. You can check out his 1934 efforts below to see which one you prefer:
11. THERE’S A NOD TO WASHINGTON IRVING AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM.
Though Disney shorts don’t get as much representation at the theme parks as the blockbusters do, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow makes the cut. Sleepy Hollow Refreshments at the Magic Kingdom serves waffle sandwiches, funnel cakes, and ice cream sandwiches—but what the hungry people standing in line probably don't realize is that the building is an homage to author Washington Irving. It was designed to look like Sunnyside, his former residence in Tarrytown, New York (also known as Sleepy Hollow).
Additional source: The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation