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