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Top 5 Sleepy Hollow Adaptations

The best versions of Washington Irvings classic short story

By Tim Janson     September 15, 2013
Source: Mania.com

Fox’s Sleepy Hollow debuts Monday, September 16, offering a fresh take on Washington Irving’s legendary short story.  In the nearly 200 years since it was first published, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted numerous times into film, TV, animated, and stage versions.  Today in Mania we take a look at the Top 5 best adaptations of the story.
 
Washington Irving was America’s first true literary superstar, preceding writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe.  Born in 1783, Irving moved with his family to Tarrytown in New York in 1798.  It was there that he became aware of the nearby small Dutch town of Sleepy Hollow and its local ghost stories which would eventually lead to his penning of the classic in his collection of tales and essays, “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent”.  The story tells of the terrifying Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier who had his head shot off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War.  The Horseman terrifies the residents of Tarrytown, and in particular, the lanky, superstitious schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane.
 
Below is our five favorite adaptations listed in chronological order
 
5.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Disney, 1949). Originally released titled “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the Disney film featured two companion films…one based on The Wind and the Willows and the other based upon The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  Narrated by Bing Crosby, this version is mostly true to Irving’s original story.  The film would later be released separately in 1955 for the Disney TV series and later on VHS.

 
4.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (NBC TV, 1980). This version was produced for NBC and was shown on the network on Halloween night, 1980.  This adaptation starred Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane, Meg Foster as Katrina Van Tassel, and NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus as Brom Bones.  Less faithful than some adaptations, it includes ample doses of humor, usually at Goldblum’s expense.  But the film is generally well-acted with some fine atmosphere and it’s a shame this doesn’t pop up on TV anymore.  It’s also quite a rare find on VHS.

 
3.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (PBS, 1988).  Produced by Rabbit Ears Productions in 1988 for PBS, this version is an illustrated take on Irving’s story with a limited form of animation.  It features the art of Robert Van Nutt and is narrated by Glenn Close.  Surprisingly well done and elegant.

 
2. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Canadian TV, 1999). The same year that Tim Burton’s big screen adaptation hit theaters, this version was produced for Canadian TV by Hallmark and is probably the most faithful of all the Sleepy Hollow adaptations.  This is both good and bad…while it is faithful, even utilizing a lot of Irving’s own original dialog, the film moves at a snail’s pace.  Without adding additional plot elements as Tim Burton’s film does, this adaptation has to stretch the original story to an hour and forty-five minutes and as a result can plod along.

 
1. Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, 1999).  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow finally got a big screen, live-action treatment in 1999 courtesy of Tim Burton.  Fans are generally split on Burton’s version with some loving it and some hating it due to the many liberties taken with the story.  This time Ichabod Crane (played by Johnny Depp) is not a schoolmaster but rather a police inspector sent to investigate a series of beheadings in Sleepy Hollow.  While Burton’s film isn’t faithful to Irving’s story it manages to capture the atmosphere of the post-Revolutionary War period extremely well.

 

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COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 10
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SmokingFrog77 9/15/2013 2:59:48 AM

The needlessly comlicated plot brings Burton's Sleepy Hollow undone somewhat, but otherwise it's a rich and beautifully made film, with fantastic performances from Dumbledore, Palpatine, Alfred Pennyworth, Saruman and Christopher Fucking Walken.

RobertTrate 9/15/2013 6:48:02 AM

 It is an incredible cast, Burtons. If you listen to the commentary track they literally went back to the West End Theaters at night to perform together. 

Miner49er 9/15/2013 11:26:16 AM

@SmokingFrog77: you left out Wednesday Addams and Ed Rooney!

fenngibbon 9/15/2013 2:16:53 PM

 Burton's Sleepy Hollow is a beautiful film to look at.  What would normally be fairly drab colors have a richness to them that is unbelievable.  The only comparable movies are the Hammer Horror films of the late 50's/early 60's or Roger Corman film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's work.  And, unlike, say, Burton's version of Dark Shadows, it gets the mix of humor and horror just about right.  Other directors should take note:  the man made a film about a decapitating spectre that has some genuine horror (e.g., the little boy) and didn't have to resort to gallons of gore.

I'm happy to see that the Jeff Goldblum version is on this list.  It has some weird quirks (the fact that it was filmed in, I believe, Utah, in wintertime is one of the lesser deviations), but I've liked it since I saw it the first time (I seem to recall that NBC had an intro to the film with Gary Coleman trick or treating at Steve Allen's house and being invited to watch it, and then the Headless Horseman showing up at Allen's door after the movie was over).  It used to be fairly common to find on TV around Halloween through the 1990's, but it disappeared, and you can't seem to buy a copy to save your life.  Thank goodness for YouTube.  

Before watching the Disney version be warned:  the Ichabod Crane song will get stuck in your head, as will the Headless Horseman song.  

The Hallmark version is slow moving; I tried to watch it once and got bored after half an hour.

Haven't watched the PBS version, but I think I will now.

Fox had an hour long CGI version a while back called The Night of the Headless Horseman.  I think they rushed it out to take advantage of the Burton film, and it shows.  Not really memorable, but I seem to recall it sort of blended the two alternate theories from the original story about what really happened to Ichabod (run off by Brom Bones versus the Horseman got him).  

 

fenngibbon 9/15/2013 3:46:44 PM

 Burton's Sleepy Hollow is a beautiful film to look at.  What would normally be fairly drab colors have a richness to them that is unbelievable.  The only comparable movies are the Hammer Horror films of the late 50's/early 60's or Roger Corman film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's work.  And, unlike, say, Burton's version of Dark Shadows, it gets the mix of humor and horror just about right.  Other directors should take note:  the man made a film about a decapitating spectre that has some genuine horror (e.g., the little boy) and didn't have to resort to gallons of gore.

I'm happy to see that the Jeff Goldblum version is on this list.  It has some weird quirks (the fact that it was filmed in, I believe, Utah, in wintertime is one of the lesser deviations), but I've liked it since I saw it the first time (I seem to recall that NBC had an intro to the film with Gary Coleman trick or treating at Steve Allen's house and being invited to watch it, and then the Headless Horseman showing up at Allen's door after the movie was over).  It used to be fairly common to find on TV around Halloween through the 1990's, but it disappeared, and you can't seem to buy a copy to save your life.  Thank goodness for YouTube.  

Before watching the Disney version be warned:  the Ichabod Crane song will get stuck in your head, as will the Headless Horseman song.  

The Hallmark version is slow moving; I tried to watch it once and got bored after half an hour.

Haven't watched the PBS version, but I think I will now.

Fox had an hour long CGI version a while back called The Night of the Headless Horseman.  I think they rushed it out to take advantage of the Burton film, and it shows.  Not really memorable, but I seem to recall it sort of blended the two alternate theories from the original story about what really happened to Ichabod (run off by Brom Bones versus the Horseman got him).  

 

karas1 9/15/2013 4:15:21 PM

I grew up near Sleepy Hollow and the Burton film makes me laugh and scream by turns.  It's rediculous.

Dazzler 9/16/2013 3:37:15 AM

I still have my MIB figure with headless on his horse from the Depp movie on a nearby shelf.  I liked the movie well enough.  I will watch a few of the ep's to see if worth paning out.  

tjanson 9/16/2013 7:37:28 AM

The CGI from 1999 was horrible.  There was a version called Headless Horseman made in 1934.  an animated short by Ub Iwerks.  Mostly musical with little dialog but kind of cute

jamalcolm 9/16/2013 8:16:56 AM

 A couple years ago, I saw a live theater version of Sleepy Hollow where Ichabod is a Puritanical dictator brought in to save the town from the Horseman. It was a very unique take, especially because Ichabod is an incredibly unlikeable character throughout and turns out to be a villain at the end. The whole thing was surprisingly good and very memorable. Unfortunately, I think the play was purely local. Every few years a theater around here does it, but I don't think it has ever been released elsewhere.

Rabbitearsblog 10/24/2013 7:45:40 PM

The only Sleepy Hollow versions I saw on this list was the Rabbit Ears version narrated by Glenn Close and the Disney version.

I really enjoyed the Disney version as it was pretty hilarious and creepy at the same time and I loved the songs being sung on there, especially the Headless Horseman song sang by Brom Bones.

The Rabbit Ears version is probably my most favorite version of Sleepy Hollow as Glenn Close was brilliant in narrating the story and I loved Robert Van Nutt's illustrations! It's also one of my most favorite stories from the Rabbit Ears series! 

I haven't seen the other versions of Sleepy Hollow, especially Tim Burton's version, but I'm making plans to watch them as soon as possible!

If you could, could you do a list on your favorite Rabbit Ears stories, if you had seen any of them?

 

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