According to Judge Joel Pearce, four balls of clay can be both entertaining and instructive.
The award-winning classic for children of all ages.
Going from its production year, The Wind in the Willows was probably showing on television when I was young, but I somehow missed it amongst episodes of Inspector Gadget and He-Man. In retrospect, I think my time could have been better spent. The Wind in the Willows looks and feels somewhat dated now, but it still has a lot to offer both children and adults who watch shows with them.
Facts of the Case
While it's not the location of any serious excitement or strife, there's always something happening in the lives of the four heroes of The Wind in the Willows. Badger seems to be the leader, because he is larger, gruffer, and tougher than any of the others. He is kind, though, and he keeps the other animals in order. Rat lives on the riverbank, and though he longs for a life of adventure, he contents himself with the friendship that the other animals have to offer. Mole is a creature of great loyalty and peace, satisfied to live a quiet and simple life. Toad is most often the instigator of trouble, a vain and foolish creature that inherited great wealth from previous generations. The four struggle against the weasels, who never seem to tire of tormenting the four friends.
The minor adventures of Toad, Badger, Mole, and Rat are so simple and straightforward that they are downright refreshing in the loud, flashy world of contemporary children's programming. Simplicity exists in each part of The Wind in the Willows' production. The animation is rough and basic, crafted well but never flashy or spectacular. Each of the characters is unique and carefully modeled, but their movements are often a tad sluggish. The script is slowly paced and laid back, keeping with the overall feel of the series. There are musical numbers, but they fit into the plot (generally) and have little instrumentation. The cast is small, with most of the running time spent on the four leads, with some moments devoted to the field mice, weasels and other minor characters.
The series hearkens back to a quieter time, somewhere in rural England early in the Twentieth Century when cars and electricity are just starting to arrive. The struggles they face are rarely large, but each one holds valuable moral lessons for children, masked just enough that they won't be noticed. One example is the episode when Mole thinks there is a ghost in his house. He is frightened of it, and turns to his friends for help, but rather than simply having them show him that there aren't ghosts or have it turn out that there are ghosts, the solution comes when he gets up the courage to search for himself. The lesson isn't that there's no such thing as ghosts, it's that we need to stand up to our fears, especially when we realize they're irrational. Some of the lessons associated with Toad are a lot simpler, but they are also clever because there's such a difference between what Toad says and the reality of the situations that he gets himself into. Most children's works don't do that kind of exploration in narrative.
The voice work is wonderful. David Jason stands out with his remarkable work as Toad, breathing an astounding amount of personality into the small clay form. Only a few of the minor characters are ever shrill or annoying. The episodes run just under 20 minutes each. It's the perfect amount of time, enough to tell the stories at a gentle pace without dragging things on too long. Musical numbers are an exception, particularly in a couple episodes where characters sing the same bloody song multiple times in a single episode.
The transfer on the DVD is satisfactory, considering the age and budget of the show. The video is somewhat fuzzy, covered with dirt and other print flaws. The print isn't as vivid as it was at one point, but it looks better than it would on television or tape. Aside from the age of the source, there are no serious flaws with the video transfer. I didn't notice compression errors or edge enhancement. The sound is better, presented in a stereo track with clear dialogue, and only the occasional sign of age.
There's a bonus episode from the second season as well as a very brief description of each of the four characters. I would have been interested in a discussion of how the series compares to the original books, and I always like to watch production footage of stop-motion animation. Even though the finished product looks rough and simple, I realize how much precise work needed to be done.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have little negative to say about The Wind in the Willows. My only concern is that the target generation of children may be too used to newer, more dazzling shows to appreciate what this series has to offer. Still, given half a chance, I think that children could easily be enchanted by its delightful stories.
If you grew up watching The Wind in the Willows, this is a fine opportunity to return to that piece of your childhood. It has held up a lot better than many shows from 20 years ago, both in animation and storytelling. If you are searching for entertainment for your own children, you may want to give this a try. It's a series that you won't find offensive in any way, and you will even be able to tolerate watching it with them.
Though this case should have been tried some time ago, its innocence in all charges is still clear. Not guilty.
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