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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow

Jay’s Month of Scares, Day 17- Disney’s Sleepy Hollow

After recalling the tale of the Hopping Hessian from the Rocko Halloween special, I knew what I wanted to watch tonight. I have seen many ghostly stories and ghoulish tales in our culture. Out of all of them, though, I think that my favorite has to be The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

First published by Washington Irving back in 1820, Sleepy Hollow‘s one of the most enduring stories in American fiction. Over the years, Irving’s famous story has been adapted and reimagined into many different iteration. There’s that Sleepy Hollow show a few years ago, a Johnny Depp movie, and cameos and references in all manner of shows and books. However, of all the adaptations, my personal favorite has to be the Disney cartoon. Coincidentally, the special turned 70 earlier this month.

Disney’s Sleepy Hollow Balances Scares with Silliness

I’m well aware that Disney’s version of Sleepy Hollow is far more light-hearted than the original story. Above all, it is Disney that’s making this. Most of the segment relies on the humor that Disney garnered a reputation for. It’s silly and relies on visual gags and sound effects, but nonetheless, it has that Disney charm.

However, all that largely changes in the final part of the story as a result of Brom Bones’ song. While watching Ichabod freak out was funny, it consequentially leaves viewers on edge as Ichabod makes his way home. By the time the Horseman actually appears, most of the humor is gone. Even the antics of Ichabod during the chase do little to lighten the mood.

The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow
Don’t stop to figure out a plan. You can’t reason with a headless man

American Gothic At Work

The chase through Sleepy Hollow
This could easily pass for a painting of a scene from the story.

I took a college course on American gothic storytelling, and I remember a few things about it. Among the major themes found is the sense of isolation and fear of the other, the unknown. Disney’s Sleepy Hollow did an impressive job of matching this. From the time Ichabod rides into the Hollow, the setting serves to remind us of how utterly alone he is. Even the narrator stops talking, and aside from repeating a line from Brom’s story, there is no dialogue. As a result, everything’s conveyed through sound effects, music, and Ichabod’s screams.

I thought that this is masterful storytelling. As a result of the lack of talking, the tension continues to build as Ichabod begins seeing danger all around him. Therefore, it keeps the viewers constantly on edge, before letting that culminate with the appearance of the Horseman to create sheer terror. The entire sequence is legitimately scary, and I can see how it would scare most kids. Even the more realistic way the Horseman’s and his steed are drawn is unsettling. They had to keep Sleepy Hollow appropriate for the kids. If I saw this as a kid, I’d probably be too scared to watch. That’s awesome!

One of the Best Sleepy Hollow Adaptations

It may not be apparent, but I’m a little obsessed with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s one of my favorite Halloween stories. Remember how I said I made a text-based game for St. Patrick’s day? The original purpose was what can essentially be called fan fiction. I wanted to do a story involving the Headless Horseman, only instead of horses, we’re riding Harleys.

My point is that while there may be scarier adaptations of Sleepy Hollow out there, my favorite remains the 1949 Disney Cartoon. It brings the humor of Disney with the gothic storytelling of the story. Plus, it’s got a really catchy song.

Happy Halloween!

Click here to see the FANDOM Article I did for Halloween last year.

Click here to see my other animation stuff. Or here to see all holiday related posts.

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