Okay, I promise I’ll get out of 1979 right after this one! These older Halloween specials simply fascinate me and I don’t think enough of an effort is being made to archive these wonderful treats.
So, The New Misadventures of Ichabod Crane comes to us from Canada – while I do know that it was made by Titlecraft in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, I can’t seem to find where it was initially aired, only that it first aired in the US on syndication. I’m not exactly sure if there is much semblance of nostalgia held for many folks compared to other Halloween specials like Disney’s Halloween Treat, Witch’s Night Out, or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I guess reruns definitely account for something, but I’ve just never heard this one mentioned in many parts. Nonetheless, I love me a good Ichabod Crane/Headless Horseman story, so I was eager to press play on this one.
With all that being said, this one is a bit strange. It opens up with a truly awesome Headless Horseman introductory sequence, replete with spooky animation, ominous music, and just a terrific, foreboding atmosphere in general. After some prowling in the shadows, we see the Horseman terrify folks in a stagecoach with his black fire-breathing horse, after which he takes off with a treasure chest full of gold coins. This short sequence sets up this terrific mood of eerie horror and supernatural spookiness… only to awkwardly transition to significantly more bright, lighthearted theme music that plays with the introductory credits. Uh, okay…? It’s honestly so jarring and even a little disappointing, as if the awesome introduction belonged to a completely different Halloween special to which I would like to return.
But let’s move on with the actual story. At this point, it’s important to acknowledge the “new” in the title – essentially, this is more of a reimagining of the original Washington Irving story of Sleepy Hollow than any sense of canonical retelling. The character of Ichabod Crane is still here as well as the aforementioned Headless Horseman (and Rip Van Winkle, for some reason). Here, however, Ichabod is assigned by the eccentric folks of Sleepy Hollow to rid the town of the Horseman’s terrorizing, due to his vast knowledge in supernatural matters. Moreover, early in the story it is also revealed that the Horseman himself is not a specter, but the result of a shape-shifting spell put on by cackling witch Velma. Honestly, this sort of cheapens the idea of the Horseman for me – now it’s essentially a kind of scary costume only occasionally put on by the witch, instead of an actual threat itself.
Essentially most of the first half of the special consists of Ichabod and Rip traveling to locate the Horseman, accompanied by a dog named Wolf and Crane’s horse named Washington. There’s surprisingly a lot of dialogue in this special, with every other line attempting to drop some sort of gag or one-liner. The vast majority of these simply fall completely flat – there were only a couple of times I can remember actually getting a slight giggle out of the writing. This accompanied with the mostly tedious story just make these parts of the special a bit of a drab to sit through. Eventually, Crane and his posse stumble suddenly upon the Headless Horseman… and, of course, he reveals himself to actually be Velma the witch. There isn’t too much more of the Horseman from this point on, which I guess isn’t the worst thing in the world – despite the disappointment, Velma is actually a very competent witch character and rather fun to watch.
The rest of the special is all very silly. Rip gets kidnapped by Velma and she turns him into a possum. Ichabod then disguises himself as a dapper traveling salesman to distract Velma while Wolf frees Rip. From here, the magical book of spells becomes fair game for anyone’s use, resulting in a variety of wacky transformation gags akin to the magic battle in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. At one point, while our protagonists are running away, Velma casts a spell which makes all of the scarecrows come to life – easily the scariest few moments of the entire episode and actually pretty awesome! This is followed up by Ichabod finding the spell to transform himself into the Headless Horseman… whereafter he proceeds to slaughter everyone one of the scarecrows. How delectably morbid!
And then it sort of peters out by then. Ichabod concludes that he can use this Horseman spell to go after Velma, shall she decide to mess with Sleepy Hollow ever again. And then they all just ride off into the sunset. Now, I’m all for non-canonical reimaginings of preexisting source material, but this is just dull and lifeless when compared to the traditional horror of the original tale. It’s not all bad, though – I’m always a huge sucker for the type of understated hand-drawn animation typical of 70s cartoons. Moreover, these characters aren’t too bad; Velma is a delightful screen presence, Ichabod’s reinvention as a clumsy, bumbling intellect is enjoyable, and even the running joke of Rip as a slumbering old man is pretty funny at times. But it seems that if these characters existed in an entirely different storyline, maybe it would have worked better overall. Anyway, I don’t fault anyone at all for finding this charming by its own right – it just doesn’t quite do it for me personally.