-Writings on Disney History, along with insights on other films, animation, and cartoons
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Basil Rathbone: Mr. Toad and Beyond...

Mr. Toad and Beyond….       
Basil Rathbone
Photo Source: http://www.last.fm

Released in October of 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad featured two narrators for the film’s respective halves. Famed crooner Bing Crosby lent both his narration and singing to the second half, featuring The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. On the first half, based on Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, iconic actor Basil Rathbone lent is signature English tone to the world of Mr. Toad.
         Work on Wind in the Willows originally began in the late 1930’s in the wake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Planned as a full-length feature, production continued until the fall of 1941. As the Second World War effectively put an end to feature production, Willows was eventually paired with Sleepy Hollow. Their eventual release in 1949 was the last of the package features, which had become the norm for Disney in the 1940’s.

         At the time of the film’s release, Basil Rathbone was probably best known for his title role in the Sherlock Holmes series of films. He had also risen as a recognizable villain, going against Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro (1940) (Robin Hood, Zorro, and Sherlock Holmes would all eventually find their own way into the Disney canon). Both films featured Rathbone with a sword; he is still recognized as one of the greatest screen swordsmen in history. In his narration on Willows, Rathbone mentions “the greatest characters of English literature” at the film’s beginning; he mentions both Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes

Against Errol Flynn's Robin Hood
Against Tyrone Power's Zorro
Photo Source: http://www.art.com

         Rathbone’s narration for Willows brought enormous celebrity appeal to the film along with Crosby on Sleepy Hollow. But audiences expecting a cunning villain to narrate Willows instead received a charming and poignant Englishman, more like the detective they had come to recognize. He is ever doubtful and disappointed with Toad, but in the end faithful to his spirit. Rathbone doesn’t sing like Crosby in the Sleepy Hollow section, but he does voice one of the policemen who catches Toad after his escape from prison on Christmas Eve. At first he falls for Toad’s disguise, then notices the ball and chain Toad was concealing. Woolie Reitherman animated the policeman. The sequence was directed by Jack Kinney.  

Rathbone's Character Cameo, Courtesy of Woolie Reitherman

         Rathbone was also featured narrating on the LP release of the Willows story, featuring more lines of narration and variations on lines from the final film:

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad would not be the last time viewers heard Basil Rathbone’s voice in a Disney film however. In The Great Mouse Detective (1986) when protagonist Basil and friends are preparing to sneak through the Baker Street apartment, we see shadowed silhouettes of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and hear an original recording of Rathbone from a 1966 reading of a Holmes short story. The silhouette on the wall looks eerily familiar to Rathbone’s own, as do the features of a bust seen next atop a shelf. In addition the name of the main character himself, Basil, is a direct homage from the children's book, "Basil of Baker Street," which the film was based on. It was a fitting tribute to perhaps the greatest of Sherlock Holmes performers on the screen. 

Rathbone's Tribute in The Great Mouse Detective

Though Rathbone passed away in 1967, less than a year after Walt Disney, he remains firmly established in film history for a multitude of roles and performances, including a wonderful piece of narration in a Disney classic. 

-"The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Ichabod_and_Mr._Toad>.
-"Basil Rathbone: Master of Stage and Screen." Basil Rathbone. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.basilrathbone.net/>.
- Perk, Hans. "Prod. 2011 Seq. 19.3." A. Film L.A. N.p., 13 Dec. 2011. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://afilmla.blogspot.com/search/label/IchabodToad>.

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