Judge Bryan Pope warns you not to lick Toad. You might meet a rapier.
Our review of The Wind In The Willows, published December 13th, 2004, is also available.
And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!
It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing.
In the grand tradition of British children's literature, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows is populated by memorable animals exhibiting peculiarly human traits. They speak, dress, and, for better or worse, think like we do. They embark on wild adventures across lush English countrysides—almost always on mild summer days—stealing motorcars for reckless joyrides, foiling bands of mischievous weasels, and evading the law through clever disguises. And they never, under any circumstances, allow their fun to interfere with afternoon tea.
The Wind in the Willows has far more of that distinctly British sensibility than The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the book's spiritual cousins. Grahame's characters live according to an established social hierarchy. Rat and Mole are the grounded and sensible middle-middle class, and Badger is the educated upper-middle class. The foolish, frivolous aristocracy is represented by Toad. Grahame's opinions on the turn-of-the-century English class system is none too subtle.
According to The Literature Network, the Scottish Grahame did not share his wife's snobbish attitudes. Their marriage was disastrous, and Grahame wrote parts of The Wind in the Willows originally in letter form to his son, Alistair, who shared certain behavioral traits with Toad. The stories were finally published in 1908 in England after being rejected by an American publisher. Initial critical response was lukewarm, but E.H. Shephard's illustrations and Grahame's animal characterizations made the stories an enduring work of children's literature.
Which brings us to Cosgrove Hall Productions's stop-motion adaptations of the celebrated stories. The two films presented here, produced in 1983 and 1989 for Thames Television, capture the spirit and gentle humor of Grahame's lovely prose, and they are gorgeous. In The Wind in the Willows, impulsive Toad's already questionable good sense flies out the window when he gets behind the wheel of a motorcar and almost loses Toad Hall to the weasels. Those wicked weasels are back in A Tale of Two Toads, and this time they've kidnapped Toad. Aided by an unexpected imposter, they plot to once again take over Toad Hall.
From Badger's cozy quarters and the ridiculously plush Toad Hall to the moist riverbanks and green, butterfly-entrusted meadows, Grahame's world is beautifully realized here. The patterns on the china are intricate, and you can practically feel the textures in the clothing fabrics and the gritty mud that adorns Rat's house. The level of detail in the costuming, sets and props is incredible, particularly for a television production, but the fluidity in the stop-motion animation is what really takes one's breath away. Great care has been taken to make the animal characters' faces express a wide range of emotions, and their voices have been carefully selected as well. Richard Pearson is Mole, Ian Carmichael is Rat, Michael Hordern is Badger and David Jason is Toad. The entire production is, in a word, perfect.
How sad, then, that most children will have little patience for a story that is slower in pace but richer in language than most contemporary children's entertainment. The show's design is sumptuous, but it doesn't dazzle. There is some action, but not the wall-to-wall kind to which most children are accustomed. Thoughtful, imaginative children will reap great rewards from The Wind in the Willows, particularly if they have already been exposed to Grahame's original book.
The Wind in the Willows: The Feature Films Collection presents both films in their original 1.33:1 formats, and, frankly, both transfers are poor. The image is grainy and contains a great deal of dirt, and one wishes the colors were bolder. The stereo soundtrack fares better, showing off Keith Hopwood's and Malcolm Rowe's exquisite score. No subtitles.
The Wind in the Willows includes a brief interview with Brian Cosgrove, "Toad's Road Trivia Game," a photo gallery and character descriptions. A Tale of Two Toads includes the character descriptions as well as "Paperchase," a bonus episode from Cosgrove Hall's The Wind in the Willows television series.
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