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The Pedagogue and the Inventor's Daughter: a guest post by Jessica Steele-Sanders October 31, 2019 00:00

From Jess: 

It's no secret by now that I love "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," specifically the featurette "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Washington Irving's tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Starting in October 2014, I began dressing up for Halloween as the story's heroine -- the entire reason Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman -- Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of the richest farmer in the countryside. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a wonderful bit of spooky fun, and it's really a perfect piece of animation. Even seventy years later, I don't know that I'd change a thing about it.

While I could wax rhapsodic about the delightful characters, the beautiful animation, the flawless narration and singing by Mr. Bing Crosby himself, and one of the most memorable animated sequences ever put to film in Ichabod's late-night flight from the Headless Horseman, I'm instead going to focus on something that I've been swearing I'd do for literal years: comparing "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" to a modern-day Disney animated classic, "Beauty and the Beast."

There are character similarities as well as a handful of visuals that suggest animators in the late eighties and early nineties working on "Beauty and the Beast" had a certain fondness for this old package film, and, while at least some of these parallels have definitely been noted before, I couldn't resist blogging about them myself.

The comparison begins with our introduction to the story's main character, intelligent but viewed as an outsider by the locals. Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is regarded as a bit of an oddball in the village of Sleepy Hollow, which we learn via a song bearing his name as he weaves effortlessly through the humble streets of his home with his nose stuck in a book: sneaking baked goods, skillfully avoiding black cats and ladders (he's very superstitious), and leaving a trail of townsfolk gossip in his wake... all with barely a glance up from the novel that has him so enthralled.

Ring any Belles?

"Odds bodkins! Gadzooks! Look at that old spook of spooks!"

If Ichabod shares some commonalities with "Beauty and the Beast"'s bookish heroine, then his town rival, the boisterous Brom Brones, bears more than a passing resemblance to burly bully Gaston -- not only in his muscular build and black hair, but also in his choice of dress and tendency to sulk when he doesn't get what he wants.

Brom only has eyes for the most beautiful girl in town, Katrina Van Tassel, who also has her own eponymous song describing her coquettish ways. It's their competition over Katrina that drives the animosity between Ichabod and Brom, egged on by Katrina herself, who's annoyed that Brom "clears the field" so easily of other potential suitors and feels he should have to work harder for her affections. To that end, she flirts shamelessly with Ichabod, but don't make the mistake of assuming that she's toying with the heart of an innocent man: Ichabod longs after Katrina not only because of her beauty, but also because of her wealthy father's farm. Lustful and greedy! Who's the hero of this story, anyway?

"Katrina, my love! Who can resist your grace? Your charm? ...And who can resist your father's farm?"

As Ichabod daydreams about winning Katrina's hand and inheriting her father's fortune ("Well, t
he old goat can't take it with him. When he cuts out, that's where I cut in"), he plucks feathers from a duster: a quirk that finds its way into "Beauty and the Beast," albeit in a much more violent fashion.

During Brom's rousing musical number about the monster that lurks just outside their town (in "Sleepy Hollow"'s case, of course, this is the Headless Horseman), a gaunt figure at the gathering looks like he could be the American relative of Monsieur D'Arque, owner of the local asylum in "Beauty and the Beast."

"...and some don't even wear their skin..."

These parallels are a little too obvious to be chalked up to coincidence, but, in case you were still in doubt, I have it on good authority -- straight from my husband, Chris Sanders -- that Disney's animation team in the eighties and nineties were indeed big fans of "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." While the number of people today (even those working in animation!) who have even seen this classic is depressingly small, that wasn't the case thirty years ago. There was a great deal of respect and admiration for the old masters at the studio back then, and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" boasted an all-star cast of animators, among them Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ken O'Brien, Woolie Reitherman, John Sibley, and Fred Moore.

One fan in particular of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" featurette? Supervising animator Andreas Deja, known for animating Lilo, Scar, Hercules, Jafar, and... Gaston.


To wrap up this post, I'd like to provide an update on my Katrina Van Tassel costume situation. To recap: in 2014 and 2015, I wore my Katrina outfit to Disneyland's nighttime Halloween event at the park, and Chris and I took bets on who would recognize my admittedly more obscure character; in 2016, Security stopped me at the turnstiles because of my voluminous skirts, and I made it in only because I basically begged: 2016 was the first year that Mickey's Halloween Party would feature the Headless Horseman riding down Main Street, and it was almost time for him to make his appearance. I was too spooked to wear my costume again in 2017 (I did don the wig and choker along with a T-shirt that said "Team Katrina" below an illustration of Katrina that Chris drew), and "The Call of the Wild" was deep in principle photography during October 2018, so we didn't attend at all last year.

This year, I wanted to bring back Katrina. I had the skirt hemmed so it couldn't be accused of dragging on the ground, and in August I wore the costume to D23 as a test drive. Believe it or not, the VERY first cosplayer that Chris and I saw on our way into the convention center was another Katrina Van Tassel!! She was posing for photos in Katrina's more recognizable introductory outfit, sporting the green parasol and little Dutch cap. I waved excitedly, but, if she recognized me, she gave no indication. Oh well. I didn't want to interrupt her photoshoot, so we moved on to enjoy the expo. Even at the "ultimate Disney fan event," however, only a handful of people knew who I was dressed as!

Instead of being held inside Disneyland, in 2019 the resort moved their after-hours Halloween event across the esplanade to Disney's California Adventure theme park. Dubbed "Oogie Boogie Bash," the party offered a fresh setting and some new entertainment. Overall, I think I prefer the party being held at Disneyland (it seems more... Halloween-y over there), but Chris and I still had a great time at Oogie Boogie Bash, and it was wonderful to bring back my Katrina costume. Multiple people/groups recognized Katrina this time around, and one man even said that he shows the featurette to his middle school English class every year! That made us both really happy, because it'd be a shame if generations grew up now without ushering in the spookiest season of all with this timeless folk tale.

Oh, and look who we found at the front of the park (he led the parade, too, along with Ichabod):

It's the Headless Horseman himself! Maaann, I'm gettin' outta here! Happy Halloween!

A great debt of gratitude goes to animationscreencaps.com, who provided the gorgeous stills from both "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and "Beauty and the Beast” that allowed me to create my comparison images.

INKtober 2017: Katrina Van Tassel Edition October 30, 2017 07:00

It's Fall again, the time when thoughts turn to cider, pumpkin carving, and my favorite Disney featurette, 1949's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

It's also the time of year that my wife Jess dons her amazing Katrina Van Tassel costume and spends the night enjoying the sights and sounds of Halloween-themed Disneyland with me. I dare say, as she floats through the crowds with her pumpkin in hand she really makes the park even more Halloween-ish.

I won't go into my regrets that this most wonderful Disney property seems to have vanished from our collective cultural landscape. People still know all the Disney animated features. The Disney princesses, villains, and core staples fill stores to bursting with mugs, T-shirts, and collectibles of all kinds. Heck, even characters within the rides have become iconic enough to appear on merchandise.

But poor Ichabod, the Headless Horseman, Brom Bones, and the fair Katrina Van Tassel are rarely, if ever, seen. Now, last year Disneyland opened their Halloween parade with the Headless Horseman, and this year he re-appeared, this time accompanied by Ichabod Crane. The Headless Horseman was even on a special Halloween pin for Annual Passholders! So that's encouraging. But Katrina -- the driving force behind the entire story -- is still nowhere to be seen. Thus, I always think it somewhat of a public service that Jess spend the evening traveling the darkened paths from Main Street to Small World, spreading Halloween cheer.

If you read last year's post, however, you'll recall we had trouble getting "Katrina" past Security in 2016 (despite Jess wearing the exact same costume as in 2014 and 2015); rules are tight when it comes to skirt length and width, etc. 

We have gathered through the grapevine that the park's concern is with guests that are costumed so accurately that they might be confused for official face characters. This would be especially odd in the case of Katrina, since she is neither a princess nor is she represented by a face character. Even so, we decided to play it safe this year and not bring the costume to Disneyland.

Instead, Jess suggested that I draw Katrina and we make T-shirts to show our Halloween spirit!

I thought this was a good idea, and I dove in with great enthusiasm. Holy mackerel, Katrina isn't easy to draw! Seems Katrina shares a lot of DNA with Cinderella, who is also hard to draw. Maybe not for some of you, but definitely a challenge for me. She's... subtle. And at the same time I was dealing with her elusive face, the rest of Katrina has some pretty extreme proportions. I actually toned her down a little for my drawing. After many, many false starts, I got a drawing I thought was close enough, and I proceeded to ink and color it. She definitely got a lot better with color, I think.

Jess and I made my drawing into "Team Katrina" T-shirts just in the nick of time, and we proudly represented one of our favorite Disney characters at Mickey's Halloween Party yet again.

This was, I realized, the first time I'd really ever tried to draw an established Disney character (well, outside of the films I've worked on, and those were always in pre-production). I think in the coming months I'll try again with Katrina, and maybe even add in an Ichabod! No promises, but I'll give it a shot! Happy (almost) Halloween, everyone, and don't forget to watch "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"!

Katrina Van Tassel Rides Again... For The Last Time? October 27, 2016 11:30

It's that time of year again! With nights getting longer, and impish breezes scattering leaves before them, it's time to dust off our copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad! It's not just that it's the right time for such wonderful Halloween fare -- as an annual tradition, we always watch it the night before our yearly excursion to Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland!

(If this is the first you've heard of it, you can read more about my fondness and admiration for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad -- more specifically, the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" portion of the film -- in this blog post from 2014.)

My wife Jess donned her extraordinarily beautiful Katrina Van Tassel costume (crafted by Dot and her talented team at Trashy Lingerie) and we made for the park to take in all the sights, sounds, and amazing decorations and costumes that put us in the spirit of the season. This was a particularly perfect year for Jess to arrive as Katrina Van Tassel, as the Halloween parade was led by the Headless Horseman himself! Yep, riding a huge black horse, he made his headless way down Main Street clutching a glowing pumpkin in his hand. Really, really fantastic. It was good to see that Disneyland hadn't forgotten "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and its wonderful characters.

Every year, Jess and I make a little bet as to how many people might recognize her as Katrina. Now, granted, there's more than one version of Katrina in the film. Katrina appears in two forms in the featurette: when Katrina first appears, she's riding in a carriage, carrying a green parasol, and wearing a little white Dutch cap; later, during the all-important Halloween party at Baron Van Tassel's farm, Katrina appears without her hat, and wearing blue ribbons in her hair. After careful consideration, Jess chose the party version of Katrina as the perfect costume for Halloween.

Just as a little extra theming, in a nod to the Headless Horseman's jack-o'-lantern noggin, Jess always carries a bright orange pumpkin with her as she strolls the park.

One of the things we've come to realize over the years is that Katrina is one of the lesser-known of the Disney heroines. And visiting the park isn't just fun, it's a way to awaken some people to the existence of the character and the marvelous film she appears in. As for the recognizing bit, Jess felt it was a long shot, but I'm always confident that someone will call her name!

Now, most of the time, people's minds are fixated on seeing princesses, and Jess got the usual multiple mistaken identifications as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. It makes some sense, as Aurora is blonde and does wear a pink dress. And perhaps people thought the pumpkin that Jess carried was just because she was trick-or-treating. The pigtails should have been a clue as to the mistake, but, oh well. One little girl thought that Jess was Elsa, which was funny. One fellow said that Jess was Cinderella, "pre-destruction," which means he thought Jess was the Cinderella that was wearing the pink animal-made dress that gets all ripped up by the stepsisters a few minutes after it is completed.

So it was looking pretty dire for most of the night, but I'm happy to say that I did indeed win the bet once again, as not one but two people knew who Jess was portraying. One Cast Member and one fellow guest called out Katrina's name when they saw Jess. Incidentally, the guest was dressed as Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in her red Feast of Fools dress. Esmeralda even expressed interest in dressing like Katrina next year.

But she'd better be careful! Katrina Van Tassel is potentially going from the endangered list to fully extinct at Mickey's Halloween Party. This may possibly have been the last year that Jess lights up the streets of Disneyland as Katrina. Why? It appears that there are ever-increasing restrictions for costumes year to year, and this is the first time in three visits to this event that Jess and I were pulled aside before being allowed into the park.

Seems the hoop-skirted dress was a no-no this time around, as there was a concern that such a structure might get caught in the ride vehicles. After assuring a small gathering of park administrators -- who were debating whether to send us back to our car -- that we never ride rides on that night (which is very true... as though Jess would go on Space Mountain in such a get-up!), they relented and allowed Katrina to bring some spooky cheer to Disneyland once more, and to wave to the Headless Horseman as he led the Halloween parade down Main Street.

Here's wishing everyone a happy Halloween!

Katrina Van Tassel: An Endangered Species? October 21, 2014 09:28

If you saw this picture and your first thought was that you were looking at a costumed Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, you wouldn't be alone.

Last Friday, Jess and I attended Disneyland's Halloween party. It was the maiden voyage for Jess's newest costume, in progress since spring: Katrina Van Tassel from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." "Sleepy Hollow" was the second of two featurettes released together in what was the last of Disney's "package" films. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was Disney Studios' 11th animated feature, and it premiered on October 5th, 1949.

Jess was sure no one would recognize the costume, and while I thought she was mostly correct, I still believed that someone at Disneyland would recognize it. From the beginning, no one did. Most believed, as we suspected, that she was dressed as Princess Aurora. A few were confused, thinking she was a fusion of Little Bo Peep from Toy Story and Sleeping Beauty. She was also mistaken for Cinderella, and Charlotte from The Princess and the Frog.

Again, none of this was a surprise.

Katrina has probably been one of the more obscure Disney characters from the beginning. Like a Disney princess, Katrina has a wardrobe change during her cartoon. When Katrina first appears she wears a bell-shaped pink dress with a blue laced front, she carries a green parasol, and she wears a white Dutch cap. Later, at a Halloween party thrown by her father, she wears a longer pink dress with a more open neckline and no blue accent. This is the version that Jess chose to portray.

What was a surprise, was that after revealing that the costume was in fact that of Katrina Van Tassel from the animated feature, there was, to a person, not a glimmer of recognition. Not even amongst the park's Cast Members.

"You know, 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow'? The Halloween cartoon with Ichabod and the Headless Horseman? Narrated by Bing Crosby?"

Blank spot here - then, "You mean that 'Sleepy Hollow' TV show?"

"No, the Disney cartoon."

What inevitably followed was the look of someone who you had just spoken to in ancient Babylonian. Apparently no one under the age of thirty or maybe even forty has ever seen this cartoon.

At the end of the night, on the way out of the park, someone finally recognized the costume. A girl dressed as Princess Aurora, of all things, traveling with a group of other costumed princesses, yelled "Katrina! Katrina!" from across the street, then ran over for a picture. Aurora seemed surprised she was the only person who got it - so I won the bet: someone, one person, had known who Katrina was. Fifteen minutes later one guy in the World of Disney store recognized the character as well. So, two out of many thousands. Which greatly saddened and distressed me.

As a kid, I learned to tell time largely because I wanted to be sure my family made it home from Sunday dinner by six-thirty. Sunday dinner for us was always at the same place: Furr’s Cafeteria in Arvada, Colorado. This, for us, was extremely fancy. The first thing you noticed after your eyes adjusted to the dark was the weird brick walls. As we stood in the tray line with other hungry families I studied the walls made of weird, goopy, sloppy bricks. They all looked a little melted, some much more than others. If one took the proper cues from the bricks and the medieval prints on the walls, I guess they were trying to make the place look like it was from ancient Europe. So waiting in the tray line was like traveling backwards through time to a cafeteria in the Middle Ages. A time when people weren’t so good at making bricks but they could still make Jell-O in every color conceivable.

We each got a tray and pushed it down the line while we picked which plates we wanted from the hundreds that were cooling on crushed ice beyond the glass sneeze guard which was at an adult's chest level. As a kid I could easily reach beneath the glass and get whatever I wanted. I always chose the same things: Salisbury steak which came with a mandatory side of green beans, green Jell-O presented in cubes, and a sugary green drink. Dad always got the chicken fried steak.

As I ate my Jell-O in the dark medieval dining room, which was hung all around with colorful knights' shields, I repeatedly checked Dad’s watch. We needed to get home before Wonderful World of Disney came on.

Never was this so urgent than the night in October when they broadcast "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

If I was lucky I saw it twice - once on TV, and again when they herded every kid in Foster Elementary into the gym and screened it in 16mm. We had been making construction paper cats and witches and ghosts since the end of September. But it wasn’t Halloween till I saw "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." That was when it really began. That Disney film was, and still is, the portal by which I reach the heart of the holiday. The kids-in-costumes, plastic-mask-held-on-by-rubber-bands, smell-of-burned-pumpkin-lid, sound-of-candy-dropped-in-a-bag Halloween.

Everything about "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" I consider to be perfect. The fall colors, the narration by Bing Crosby, the disarmingly cute opening and the scary end. Brom Bones’ song at the Van Tassels' Halloween party always make me feel like I was there amongst the frightened guests. And the execution of Ichabod’s final, lonely ride through the deep woods and hidden graveyards of his township is a masterpiece of tension, humor, and sudden terror.

And the characters! There is only one Ichabod, and certainly Brom Bones is the ironclad prototype from which Beauty and the Beast's Gaston was later hammered.

But none of it would work if not for Katrina. Presented as an unearthly beauty who arrives out of nowhere at the side of her father, she is a creature that only animation could conceive, floating around like a cloud, prancing across streams more like Bambi than a human being. Katrina lifts nothing heavier than a teacup or parasol while a willing army of admirers carry entire picnics and weeks of provisions for her. And yet she never came off as manipulative to me. Rather, Katrina seemed to occupy a needed space in that world. Like a thunderstorm that sweeps through the mountains, she was a disruptive necessity. She kicked everyone into gear. She was the planet all the other characters fall into orbit around.  I like that Katrina messes with people, but in the end she, like Brom Bones, is without malice. Her willingness to toy with Ichabod is in direct proportion to the less-than-noble designs Ichabod has for her.  This fantastic little story by Washington Irving recognizes both Brom's and Katrina's awareness of their inevitable pairing, thus this last dance of courtship choreographed by Katrina.  In a situation like this any of these three characters could have come off as a victim or a villain, but in the hands of this particular team of artists they all end up quite likable, indeed.  No one, I think, more than Katrina. She's beautiful and provocative at her entrance, and even moreso at the finish.  I wish she showed up in attractions and merchandise more than she currently does. Which is to say not at all - save for an often overlooked restaurant in Walt Disney World.

Katrina is, I think, unique amongst Disney characters. She exudes more dimension, charm and attitude than a character with her screen time has a right to. And all without uttering a single word. And the unapologetic audacity of her design is refreshing. Jessica Rabbit gets a lot of attention for how she’s drawn, but I think Katrina has her beat in all categories. Katrina's animators include Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ken O'Brien, Woolie Reitherman, John Sibley, and, of course, Fred Moore.  I'm not sure if a featurette usually had such an all-star lineup, but this film obviously owes a good deal of its longevity and strength to its roster.  But a huge amount of credit should be given to the story crew, the background painters, and the editing and sound work in the climactic sequence.

So what's the point of all this? I guess I just want to keep the memory of this cartoon alive. A new generation shouldn't miss out on this perfect piece of American Halloween. Take an hour to share "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" with someone you think would like it. You can find it on Netflix (although not streaming, sadly) and Amazon Instant Video, or even newly bundled on DVD and Blu-ray.

And Happy Halloween!

UPDATE (10-14-15): In addition to adding some photos of Jess taken by Ryan Astamendi, we're happy to note that, at this year's Disneyland Halloween party, Jess was recognized as Katrina by four different groups, including one Cast Member. That might not sound like much, but it's twice as many as last year!