Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why No Ichabod and Mr. Toad?

Though Halloween ended days ago, I figured I'd bring this one up anyway...

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad...

Why was this package feature, one of the better ones from the post-war line-up, never given a proper home video release for a long while?

When I say a "proper release", I mean a release that includes a VHS edition. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was actually available on home video prior to its 1999 VHS release, the final title in the rather short-lived Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. It was available on LaserDisc only, and this was released on October 21, 1992.

Like the other package features, it was never part of The Classics, the first line for Disney's animated features on home video. But what's unusual is that some other package features got video releases in uncut form during The Classics' run or before, even!

Walt Disney Home Video didn't want to release the Disney animated classics on videocassette or videodisc in the early 1980s, because Disney was still clinging onto their model that they had started after Walt Disney's death in 1966. The top brass always had this "What Would Walt Do?" mentality, and they assumed that Walt would not have embraced videotapes and big reflective discs. They felt this way because Walt didn't opt to show his animated classics on television, feeling that it would take away from theatrical re-release revenue...

Back then, however, the big screen... Going to the cinema was the ideal way to see a Disney animated classic. You could see it in full color, no commercial breaks, with the right audio and visual experience. Walt Disney's earliest animated features, sans the low-budget Dumbo, were expensive endeavors that cost the studio dearly when World War II had erupted across the Atlantic. Theatrical re-releases turned former box office flops Pinocchio and Bambi into winners.

Of course, all fans know why the package features were made: After Disney had lost money on the single-story features, it was time to scale down and keep the company afloat. Cartoon production continued, and features were made out of segments linked together after the success of Saludos Amigos. Features like Make Mine Music, Fun & Fancy Free, and Melody Time were the name of the game for a little while. Walt had then ventured into live-action, and later television and theme parks, building a bigger safety net for his company.

The package feature era ended in 1950, with the release of Cinderella, the grand return to the single-story animated feature and one that was a smash hit at the box office. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad closed the era, being a film composed of two half-hour segments. Outside of Fun & Fancy Free, all the other package features have more than 3 segments. You can see shades of the return with both segments of Ichabod & Mr. Toad. The Wind in the Willows is whimsical and witty, with tight pacing and storytelling. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is more foreboding, like an earlier feature from the Disney studio, and works well without dialogue.

The home video division released Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland on videocassette in 1981, because Walt himself showed those - albeit in edited form - on television in the mid 1950s. They were televised after his death, and theatrically re-released too. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, very much a "package feature", was also released on video in 1981 and its short subject counterparts were later released separately. In 1982, the company then released The Three Caballeros and Fun & Fancy Free...

Around the same time, Disney released the two segments of Ichabod and Mr. Toad separately. Each came with two bonus cartoons, a nice supplement, buuuut... Why was the full feature never released? They had no problem releasing Fun & Fancy Free in its full, uncut form on home video at the time. Like Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Fun & Fancy Free was later cut in half in the 50s, and its two segments were re-purposed as Disneyland anthology series material. It makes Ichabod and Mr. Toad's lack of a video release all the more perplexing...

eBay listing.

Re-issue, as you can tell. eBay listing.

When The Classics line began, Disney only re-issued The Three Caballeros on video. The cover for it looks like a Classics release!

But then turn to the spine, no diamond! Donald's head is in a diamond, though. The back? No diamond. Tape label? No diamond. Play the tape? You get the 1986 Walt Disney Home Video logo.

I guess the Classics line only applied to single-story features, even though the Disney canon as we know it was indeed a thing in 1987. Fun & Fancy Free was never updated with new packaging and a new master during this time, neither was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Disney used the then-new Mini-Classics line to fill the gap. The Mini-Classics line, as the title implied, was built for Disney's featurettes, film too long to be conventional shorts that were too short to be feature-length films. Fun & Fancy Free's segments Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk were presented in their televised forms. In the former, Jiminy Cricket narrates, in the latter? Ludwig von Drake. The original narrators were pop musician Dinah Shore and radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, respectively.

That one, you could easily split and not lose much. The Three Caballeros? Not really, though Disney tried once in the 1970s. "In featurette form"...

And Winnie the Pooh remained carved up into three featurettes, accompanied by the post-Many Adventures featurette Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.

But dirty little secret, this is the authentic way to view the classic Winnie the Pooh... The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was strung together by Disney's executives, probably because they needed a stopgap feature, as production took longer than usual on The Rescuers. You see, in the 1970s, the wait times between new Disney animated features were pretty long. Nowadays, we usually get one every calendar year. If not, then we get two in another year. (Disney Animation sat 2015 out, so we got two this year. This will happen again, for no new WDAS feature debuts in 2017, we'll got two in 2018.)

Walt Disney actually never intended to make three short subjects, and then string them together into one feature-length film somewhere down the road. When Walt acquired the rights to Winnie the Pooh in the early 1960s, the initial plan was to make a full-length feature... But then Walt and his crew realized that the stories could not be stretched into a roughly 80-minute feature, so the "feature" was cancelled. Walt made a 25-minute short subject - or "featurette" - instead, that was 1966's Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Blustery Day was started shortly afterwards, and completed two years after his death.

Then there's Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, which opened in 1974. Six years later! That was conceived long after Walt's death, Walt didn't have a third short subject in mind. You can also tell that it's pretty much a mid-70s Disney effort, as the storytelling here isn't as sharp and the animation definitely comes from the new guard: Look for Don Bluth's signature tongue-flapping when Rabbit's lost in the woods!

So yes, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh truly isn't a canon feature. It'd be like Disney stringing together the best, previously-released 30s/40s Mickey and friends cartoons, and then passing that off as a feature. Disney did do this kind of thing a couple times. Early 1937 brought us Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons, a test to see if audiences could sit through a feature's length of animation. Back then, 40 minutes or more counted as a "feature". (This is why the 42-minute Saludos Amigos is considered a "feature" in the canon.) Then there's the forgotten Music Land, a package feature consisting of segments from Make Mine Music and Melody Time. This was released in 1955, and Disney seems to forget that ever happened.

Disney, for some bizarre reason, likes the pass off the narrative that Walt wanted to make 3 Winnie the Pooh shorts first, and then string them into a feature. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was put together by the Walker/Miller Disney company, it was their idea. It really shouldn't even be part of the canon, but the canon is pretty much a corporate thing. They couldn't possibly include wartime effort Victory Through Air Power! Or Song of the South! A truer canon has those included, methinks.

Moving on...

The televised version of Mickey and the Beanstalk, told by Ludwig von Drake.

So by the early 1990s, we had The Three Caballeros on videocassette in its full form alongside the newest Classics titles. Fun & Fancy Free hadn't seen a new video release at all, its two segments being released individually instead as Mini-Classics titles. Parts of Make Mine Music were released as Mini-Classics editions too, like the Peter and the Wolf and Willie the Operatic Whale segments. Make Mine Music was shown uncut on the Disney Channel around this time, and it was released on video in foreign countries, such as Japan. The full, uncut Reluctant Dragon was a Disney Store exclusive. Its title segment was available as a Mini-Classics title.

I guess Disney wanted to focus solely on the single-story features, the iconic films, while opting to carve up the package features. Perhaps it was cheaper to release them as cardboard slipcover-packaged, under-40 minute tapes? I get the reasoning, though... It's roughly 1990, and their main concerns for the Classics line are the main line works. Keep in mind, in 1990, Disney was just beginning to release their contemporary animated films on video. Something they held off doing for a while.

You see, in the Classics line's early years, you didn't see a spring 1987 VHS of The Great Mouse Detective or a summer 1989 VHS of Oliver & Company. Black Cauldron? Forget it, Disney was trying to move on from that one because of the regime change. The new crew that arrived on the scene in the mid-1980s treated Black Cauldron as a "band-aid ripping" moment. So, 1986 gave us Sleeping Beauty, hot off its most recent theatrical re-release. Then 1987 gave us Lady and the Tramp, also hot off a then-recent theatrical re-release. 1989 gave us Bambi, also coming off of a very successful re-release. Disney also still clung onto that "re-release" mentality for the new films, thinking that future theatrical re-releases of the contemporary films would mean something. Then The Little Mermaid happened...

A smash hit at the box office, winning critical accolades left and right, and even some Oscars (!), The Little Mermaid changed the game at Walt Disney Home Video. After doing some research and audience polling, Disney realized that audiences were willing to buy the film on video in droves. So The Little Mermaid became the first contemporary Disney animated film to be released on home video, and that was in 1990. That same year, Disney released an older "classic" feature on video: Peter Pan.

So now Disney was going to release their newest alongside the older, requested films. There was no room for the package features at this point, given the lower demand for them and the fact that they were readily available in cut up form. Casual buyers weren't clamoring for the full Ichabod and Mr. Toad with all the library footage intact, or the full Make Mine Music.

The LaserDisc release from 1992 must've been geared specifically towards aficionados. LaserDisc was a format mostly owned by the tech-savvy, adults. VHS was more for the general consumer, especially families. Disney-loving LaserDisc owners sometimes were rewarded with goodies that VHS owners didn't get: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were released on a two-movie LaserDisc in the mid 1990s, for instance - not part of any pre-existing line, but of a special LaserDisc-only line. Saludos Amigos didn't get a VHS release until 2000! And it was in censored form on that release!

That being said, the LaserDisc doesn't look like a special release: It just uses the two Mini-Classics covers and a blue background. It's a rather cheap-looking cover, to be frank, resembling the double-feature LDs Disney put out at the time.

The Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection replaced the Classics line in 1994, and from here on out, Disney made some changes. The Three Caballeros was now part of the collection, but hybrids like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks were now counted. Eventually, almost every package feature was added to the line: Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh came in 1996 (complete with a preceding behind-the-scenes special), Fun & Fancy Free arrived in 1997, Make Mine Music and Melody Time arrived in censored (!!!) form in 1998, Ichabod and Mr. Toad closed out the line in 1999.

The Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection, perhaps the last animated feature home video line that wasn't Platinum/Diamond/Signature, housed many of these films too. Saludos Amigos made its VHS and DVD debut in this very line.

As of now, Saludos Amigos is available uncut on the Walt & El Grupo DVD. Cover art from a Disney cover designer's website indicates that Disney planned to release it and The Three Caballeros on Blu-ray at some point. Caballeros was restored, as evidenced by a cleaned-up print that was shown on TCM's 'Treasures from the Disney Vault' block a year ago. The 2008 DVD contains an earlier, beat up print. Make Mine Music and Melody Time haven't been released since the Gold Collection, good luck finding them uncensored. Everything else is available on Blu-ray.

Disney has always had issues with their package features on home video, and these issues persist. Why restore The Three Caballeros only to show it on television? That's one question of many, for Disney has yet to release several live-action classics, TV programs, and cartoons on Blu-ray and digital. Like Leonard Maltin said, if Disney is so gung-ho about digital and "the cloud", where is all this material? Another ramble for another day...

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad has indeed had an interesting history on home video as a package feature...


  1. Funny you mention "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" you said, Walt intended to make a Pooh feature, however the reason for the film to be "broke up" as featurettes is because he felt that American audiences in the early 1960s weren't familiar with the A.A. Milne stories.
    However, the loose continuity in the three (four if you count "A Day for Eeyore") stories makes sense as the A.A. Milne "Winnie the Pooh" books themselves were essentially a bunch of episodes bunched together as chapters.

    On the subject of this post, both TMAoWtP and F&FF were taken out of print sometime in the late 1980s - I presume 1987 - most likely as a result of the "short versions" being made available (all four Winnie the Pooh featurettes were made available in 1986, 2 years before the Mini Classics were released).

    On a minor note, I believe iTunes has the restored "Three Caballeros" unless I'm mistaken.

    1. Ahhh, but that's also part of the myth. More than anything, he opted for a featurette or two because he knew it couldn't work as an 80-minute cohesive story, and by the early 1960s Walt was not interested in making package features. It had nothing to do with whether Americans knew the books or not. If Walt could make a Pooh feature work circa 1964, he would've gone ahead with it. (i.e. how well known was '101 Dalmatians', the book, in America?)

      IIRC, the old Caballeros print is what's on iTunes. I'll have to check again, but the restored cut SHOULD be on physical media.

  2. Very interesting. Especially considering how nowadays, Disney considers those "package" features as part of the official canon now. The way they haven't updated "Make Mine Music" and "Melody Time" with new releases yet reminds me of how they haven't released a new DVD/Blu-Ray of "A Goofy Movie" yet, not even for its' 20th anniversary last year! So we're still stuck with the Gold Collection DVD release, which may very well just be the original VHS ported to DVD, complete with pan-and-scan print of the movie, and the 90s "gold" Walt Disney Home Video logo (albeit on a black background instead of blue.) In fact, that DVD is so old, it doesn't even function properly on our living room Blu-Ray player, and can cause a few playback problems.

    And as for not releasing the newest features on video until "The Little Mermaid," I still say Disney should've at least released "Oliver & Company" on video as a Classics edition in the summer of 1990, or even some point in 1991! It was still a hot property even back then, and wasn't that dated.

  3. I have the 1982 VHS of The Wind and the Willows.