With Hallowe’en soon upon us, there is no better time to be introduced to one of the loveliest characters Disney has ever created: Katrina van Tassel.
The famous Washington Irving tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was animated by Disney in 1949, and released as a double feature under the title The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Later, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was re-released as a separate short film that often played on the television program “The Wonderful World of Disney” at Hallowe’en. The story’s delightfully spooky elements, including carved pumpkins, haunted forests and the terrifying Headless Horseman, perfectly suit it to this time of year.
The shining star of the film, however, is the incredibly beautiful Katrina van Tassel – the closest Disney has ever come to depicting a plus-size Princess.
The description of Katrina in Irving’s original tale, which can be seen accompanying Justine Legault’s entry on the Judgment of Paris’ very own Survey
page, is an intoxicating account of her charms:
“She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father's peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the ornaments of pure yellow gold, which her great-great-grandmother had brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time, and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.”
When viewing Disney’s visual representation of Katrina, one can plainly see that she is faithful to the voluptuous spirit of Irving’s original character.
Though she may somewhat resemble Disney’s Cinderella, the later princess cannot ever hope to match Katrina’s womanly physicality. Buxom and voluptuous, there is undeniable weight in her figure. Her bust is full, with plump arms and legs, and soft, rounded hands. Her face is visibly fuller than that of any other Disney heroine, indicating that she was explicitly designed to be curvaceous. The narration testifies to this, quoting Irving’s original text at her first appearance: “...plump as a partridge, ripe, melting, and rosy-cheeked.”
She possesses the fair features of a fairy-tale princess: golden hair, blue eyes, and a rosy complexion shaded by a parasol, one of the most traditionally ladylike of accessories. Her soft facial structure is wonderfully doll-like, with full, sensual rose-pink lips and wide eyes framed by fluttering lashes. Katrina has all the hallmarks of timeless beauty.
Katrina’s romantic attire enhances her feminine charms. Delicate pink, cut low over the bosom, and baring her plump arms, one can hardly imagine anything better suited to the coquettish temptress. The plentiful fabric of her full skirt swishes and sways about her as she coyly gathers the fabric in her hand, lifting it slightly to reveal the briefest glimpse of rounded calves. Though not overtly, vulgarly provocative, Katrina’s feminine allure is undeniably sensual, due in no small part to her shapely figure.
A particularly inspired design element is the gathered overskirt elegantly shaped to resemble pink flower petals fanning out from Katrina’s waist. It is as if Katrina herself is a blossoming flower, a quintessential symbol of femininity, her voluptuous curves harmonious with the enchanting beauty of nature. She is the most perfectly formed blossom imaginable, with all others seeming sad and wilted in comparison with her exquisite beauty.
Understandably, one may initially feel dismay at the sight of Katrina’s exaggeratedly tiny waist, so unnaturally constrained in comparison with the rest of her full-blown curves. One need not despair, however; upon further reflection, an excuse can be made for this stylised design aspect. Due to the nature of the costume, it is certain that Katrina is wearing a corset underneath her lovely dress, artificially restraining her waist. It is easy to imagine, then, that once freed of the corset’s tight embrace, her waist would be as soft and naturally full as the rest of her plump figure. The idea is reminiscent of the well-known photograph of Edwardian beauty Lillian Russell
attractively unlaced, with the full beauty of her figure in view. It adds an exciting tension to her character; Katrina can hardly keep her curves in check, her bountiful beauty only tamed with aggressive corseting. The almost dangerous quality of her figure, coupled with the fact that the true extent of her curves are left to the imagination of the viewer, make her positively thrilling.
Upon her first appearance, Katrina is shown enrapturing all men who set eyes upon her. Not a single one can resist her as she displays her beauty. All eyes point towards her, utterly transfixed.
“Once you have met that little coquette Katrina, you won’t forget Katrina”
, read the lyrics of her theme song, a sweet little ballad performed by Bing Crosby. It is an apt descriptor of her character: Katrina is unashamedly flirtatious, confident in her allure and a lover of male attention. This mesmerising coquetry effortlessly ensnares the hearts of protagonist Ichabod Crane and his rival Brom Bones, beginning the main conflict of the story as the two men vie for her attention. In the above image, she flashes a coy sidelong glance at Ichabod, and this simple gesture is enough to engrave her goddesslike image in his mind.
“Katrina, my love, who could resist your grace, your charm?”
sighs Ichabod as her beauty floods his love-fuelled fantasies. To him, and all others who fall prey to her wiles, she is an ideal of loveliness matched by no other, a goddess to be idolised and cherished.
Rightfully, she is depicted as being treated like the goddess she truly is. Lines of suitors bearing lavish gifts queue up for the merest glimpse of her, eager for her to bestow even the tiniest favour upon them.
The well-known cliché of laying down one’s coat so a lady may pass over a puddle is employed here. The truly gentlemanly manner in which Katrina is treated is more evidence of the traditionally feminine identity she inhabits, in a world where gender relations are natural and respectful.
The aforementioned piles of gifts are fought for, first by Ichabod:
...and then by Brom:
...as the two men compete over who can spoil her, adore her and worship her more, in accordance with her delightful vanity. Indeed, with her indulgent, minx-like qualities, Katrina is veritably the embodiment of the Victorian vixen
archetype previously discussed on this forum. “Katrina will kiss and run, to her a romance is fun,”
as stated by her theme song’s lyrics, indicating her passionate zest for life and love. She is reminiscent of an animated Ginevra Fanshawe, right down to the "plump, and pink, and flaxen attributes"
of her appearance. Encouragingly, there is no moralising applied to her vixenish characteristics. She may be Disney’s equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara, but she is never condemned for her flirtatious teasing. No element of malice enters her character; she never desires to hurt or manipulate, but only to enjoy and encourage the abundant attention given to her beauty. It is fortunate that in creating Katrina’s character, Disney decided to simply delight in the aesthetic appeal of a tempting goddess of ravishing, plump femininity.
Katrina’s facial expressions are frequently fascinating. Below, she adopts a thoughtful demeanour with a marvellously girlish gesture of a finger lightly touching her pouted lips. She evokes a 1950s pin-up photograph, splendidly accentuating her charms.
Next, we see a wistful, dreamy expression gracing Katrina’s fair features. As she holds a bouquet of flowers against her delicate cheek, one wonders what romantic dreams she is indulging in. The yellow blossoms complement her natural beauty, her eyes half-lidded in indolent pleasure as the floral perfume wafts about her. The bouquet is especially fitting considering the flower-petal motif in her design, enhancing Katrina’s quintessential femininity.
In a fascinating still image, Katrina’s one and only departure from her usual sweetness is captured. The Victorian vixen within her breaks free momentarily, betraying her spoiled vanity. After an impressive display of gifts from Ichabod, she turns to rival suitor Brom, and seems to be asking, “Why haven’t you satisfied my every whim yet? Can you outdo the lavish worship of your rivals?"
She is pouty and petulant, yet her full-figured beauty turns this into a thrillingly appealing emotion. Both the characters in the film and the viewer cannot help but feel that her gorgeous perfection entitles her to whatever she wishes for, that her every desire should be immediately satisfied. “Prove that your love for me is genuine,”
she seems to demand.
Later in the film, an evening soiree reveals Katrina’s penchant for one of the most feminine arts: dance. Never relenting in her coquetry, she dances with each of the two rivals in turn, displaying her feminine comeliness through the artistry of her movements. Though her figure visually implies heaviness and weight, she moves as if she were light as a feather, delicate as a butterfly.
The above screenshot offers a dizzying view of her ample décolletage. In this scene, her hair is uncovered and adorned with an adorable blue bow. A black ribbon is tied around her soft, fleshy neck, and the sleeves of her dress are now sheer, offering a tantalising view of her plump upper arms (which are as beautiful as those of Katherine Roll).
Still images cannot capture the gracefulness of Katrina’s animation. To fully appreciate her, one must watch her in action. She bats her eyelashes coquettishly, twirling and dancing with balletic poise, blowing gentle kisses at her flocks of admirers. She walks as if she were gliding, her languid gestures exuding femininity.
The film can be viewed on YouTube, in four parts, linked below. To gain the complete effect, watch it after nightfall, in a darkened room. (Katrina’s first appearance is at 6:45 in Part 1.)
Ordinarily, YouTube commentary is painful to read, and the comments accompanying “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are no exception. The differing views of Katrina revealed in the comments, however, are actually quite revealing. Opinions of her vary from "most gorgeous toon ever" to some calling her "chubby." This is, in fact, encouraging: it confirms the fact that she is curvy enough to be somewhat confronting to those who usually cannot reconcile "full-figured" with "beautiful princess". She is visibly plump enough to be noticeable, but the favourable comments about her prove that she's also undeniably attractive. Katrina is the animated embodiment of what this site has previously called ‘the paradox of the plus-size model’. Modern culture presents ‘plus-size’ and ‘beautiful’ as mutually exclusive. Katrina, by nature of her very existence, destroys this false conditioning, prompting the public to break free of their thin-supremacist indoctrination and recognise Katrina as a plump, curvaceous goddess, an ideal of beauty.
And indeed, by the end of the film, Katrina appears to have blossomed even more as she is briefly shown in wedding attire. Perhaps her delight at finally becoming the bride of her beloved prompted her to celebrate by indulging her appetite, thus improving upon her already perfect beauty.
Though many call for a plus-size Disney Princess to join the official Princess line-up, the ideal full-figured heroine already exists in the form of Katrina van Tassel. Perfectly plump, traditionally feminine, and exuding seductive charm, Katrina is an archetype of the plus-size goddess in animated form. The story of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” frames her as symbolic of the power of femininity and true beauty, making this delightful little film an honourable tribute to timeless beauty.