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Top 5 Sleepy Hollow Adaptations
The best versions of Washington Irvings classic short story
By Tim Janson
September 15, 2013
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.