A&E // 1984 // 280 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 31st, 2005
The award-winning classic for children of all ages.
In my review of the first volume of The Wind in the Willows, I recommended it wholeheartedly because of its classic, timeless look and feel. It is more wholesome than most children's entertainment, yet it doesn't treat children like idiots, which is all too rare. This second volume lacks some of the magic present in the early episodes, but it remains top-notch entertainment for youngsters.
Nothing has changed in the overall structure of The Wind in the Willows. It still follows the experiences (I hesitate to use the word adventure here) of Toad, Rat, Mole, and Badger, living in the turn-of-the-century English countryside. This series remembers Britain before cities and electricity and other modern bothers invaded British life, and the pace of the series represents that simplicity. Although Toad continually gets himself into trouble, the group is rarely in any real danger, and even Toad is able to avoid serious mishaps thanks to the watchful eyes of his friends.
Since there are four central characters in the series, it is a shame that almost all of the episodes focus on the misadventures of Toad. He is the funniest, of course, so I understand why the focus is on him most of the time. The first volume had more variety, though; several episodes took a close look at one of the three other characters. By the end of this volume, I was starting to get tired of the same old formula. On occasion, it would be nice if Toad actually showed a bit of sense, or if one of the others made a mistake. One episode has some of the weasels showing some humanity, which was a nice touch. Unfortunately, moments like this are few and far between.
As the series continues, it is also becoming clear that some of the stories aren't long enough for a full 20-minute episode. Many of the premises are stretched pretty thin, becoming tediously repetitious by shows' end. The weakest parts of the show are always conversations that have little to do with the plot, as the characters wait for something to happen. There are some wonderful episodes as well, such as a consistently funny golfing episode, and a wintertime search for a young shrew who has gone missing in a storm. Once again, the morals in each of these stories are deeply embedded: children won't miss them, but they won't feel preached at, either.
While I was less impressed with the stories this time around, the animation has definitely improved since the beginning of the series. The first episode on this disc has Toad skiing around, and it looks spectacular. While the process of creating stop motion animation must be tedious, it lends a depth and texture that can rarely be achieved by cel animation. The world created in this series comes to life through this animation, and the richness of detail certainly makes up for the jerky movement.
The DVD production is as strong this time around as it was on the first series. The transfer isn't sourced from a brand new print, but the image looks relatively clean, and some effort has been put into restoration. The sound is solid but unimpressive, from the out-of-tune first notes of the theme song to the shrill (and nearly never-ending) voice of Toad.
This set has the same extras as the last set, including a brief character description for each of the leads and a bonus episode from the upcoming third series.
Fans of The Wind in the Willows will certainly want to add this second volume to their collections. Although these aren't the best episodes in the series, there are enough delightful moments to satisfy all but the most jaded of youngsters.
If Toad would please step down from the witness stand now, I am prepared to issue my verdict of not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 280 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Preview Episode
* Character Descriptions
* Review of Series One