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Disney does not try to be like the source material and leave the audience guessing in such a way (and it could be argued that they couldn't do such a thing in the same way the book does) but they do create their own interpretation and therefore drop hints to the audience as to what they were intending. A great movie knows that they have to show the audience and not tell. A great example is the film Clueless. In the film, main character Cher has a crush on new kid Christian. Through subtle hints during their interaction, the filmmakers drop hints that let us come to our own conclusion that Christian is gay. It is only when Cher needs to be let out of the dark when another character actually voices this fact. In Disney's adaption of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow we are never actually told who the headless horseman is. We are given many clues that it is Brom Bones but at the end of the day still wonder if it could have been a demon. While the book offers a much wider gap for interpretation, the film does a good job tapping into a similar spirit and should be applauded for doing so.
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The choice of who is going to be the main character to represent a film is a hard one. As discussed earlier, a film depends on visuals and requires more wow factor because audiences can often be shallow. The main characters in The Wind in the Willows are Rat and Mole. Toad is more of a plot point and side character - the trickster character which was discussed on the most recent episode of Talk Magic to Me (listen at the end of this blog post). So why did Disney choose Toad to be one of the faces to represent this film?
The obvious answer is that Toad is very interesting. All of Rat and Mole's adventures are slow and would be quite boring to a child audience. But when Toad comes along, things become fast paced and suspenseful. The reader is constantly wondering - how will Toad get out of this situation? Naturally, this makes Toad an interesting character and a good face for a film. But I believe there were other motivations for Toad's casting as well.
When I read The Wind in the Willows for the first time (actually I listened to the audiobook), I found that Toad reminded me of Walt Disney himself! That may sound weird because Walt Disney didn't steal cars or go on train chases...but he was very obsessed with the newest pieces of technology. The similarities between man and character are most apparent when Toad sees the motor car driving up the road and becomes mesmerized. Even when his friends restrain him, Toad can think of nothing else but that motor car. He goes through many lengths to get that car. Walt Disney was the same way. He was straight forward and knew what he wanted and didn't try to hide it. When he saw his daughters reading Mary Poppins, he knew he would go to all lengths to make that story into one of his motion pictures. Mary Poppins was his motor car. Both cross boundaries yet at the end of the day we love them and route for them. I'm sure Walt saw some of himself in Toad.
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There is so much more that can be said about this film but I will end it there. Be sure to listen to our newest episode of Talk Magic to Me where we discuss this very film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad!