The Wind in the Willows (1996)


UK. 1996.


Director/Screenplay – Terry Jones, Based on the Novel by Kenneth Grahame, Producers – Jake Eberts & John Goldstone, Photography – David Tattersall, Music – John Du Prez, Songs – Du Prez, Jones, Dave Howman & Andre Jacquemin, Visual Effects Supervisor – Peter Chaing, Visual Effects – The Magic Camera Co, Makeup/Hair Design – Jan Sewell, Production Design – James Acheson. Production Company – Allied Filmmakers


Terry Jones (Toad), Steve Coogan (Mole), Eric Idle (Rat), Nicol Williamson (Badger), Anthony Sher (Chief Weasel), Stephen Fry (The Judge), John Cleese (Toad’s Lawyer), Bernard Hill (The Engine Driver), Julia Sawalha (The Jailer’s Daughter), Victoria Wood (The Tea Lady), Nigel Planer (The Car Salesman), Michael Palin (The Sun)


Mole is startled as machinery starts tearing up the field where his burrow is. He and his friend Rat go to see Toad, the lord of the manor, only to find that Toad has sold the field to the rascally weasels that live in the Wild Woods. They are nearly run down by a motorcar and afterwards Toad becomes completely obsessed with motorcars. Mole and Rat then find that Toad has put Toad Hall up as collateral to the weasels to buy six new motorcars. They send the cars back and restrain Toad but Toad escapes, where he steals a motorcar and crashes it. He is arrested and sentenced to a hundred years in jail. Mole, Rat and the jailer’s daughter come up with a scheme to help Toad escape so that he can return and stop the weasels who have foreclosed on Toad Hall and are about to execute their long held plan to blow it up and build a dog food factory.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908) is one of the modern children’s classics. The characters, especially that of the anarchic Toad, are some of the most well liked in children’s literature. The story is universally popular as a stage adaptation and can be guaranteed to revived at least once a year at holiday season, although this is a popularity that has never much transferred over into film. The book has certainly been adapted to the screen a number of times:– as one episode of Disney’s animated anthology The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949); and several tv adaptations including – Thames’s animated The Wind in the Willows (1983), the live-action American-made The Wind in the Willows (1983), a stop-motion animated tv series The Wind in the Willows (1984-8), the Rankin-Bass animated The Wind in the Willows (1987), an animated British-made Christmas special Mole’s Christmas (1994), the live-action British The Adventures of Mole (1995), the British-made animated The Wind in the Willows (1996) and the live-action BBC version The Wind in the Willows (2006). None of these have ever gained a reputation as the defining standout adaptation of the story. Surprisingly, this has been the only full-length cinematically released adaptation.

This version comes from Terry Jones. Jones was one of the core members of the Monty Python troupe and directed the three principal Python films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). On his own, Jones has written the script for the George Lucas-Jim Henson fantasy Labyrinth (1986) and made his first non-Python directorial outing with Personal Services (1986), a comedy about prostitution. Jones’s previous fantasy outing was the rather limpid Erik the Viking (1989), based on his own children’s story.

The good news is that The Wind in the Willows is a much better film than Erik the Viking was; the great shame is that it was little seen when it came out and almost vanished without a trace. It is a rather good adaptation of the story. Jones gets Kenneth Grahame’s nonsensical absurdity and the surreal fabulism of the tale down pat, with wonderfully nonchalant images of animals conducting the most British of pursuits – the green-skinned Toad catching flies with his tongue while dressed in the tweeds of a country gentleman, huntsmen that have fox’s tails, an Oxford rowing team that all have bunny ears passing by down the river.

Jones also manages to array a substantial number of names from British comedy and theatre and to reunite most of the remaining Monty Python troupe – Eric Idle, John Cleese and Michael Palin – all in substantial parts, with the only absentees being Graham Chapman (who died in 1989) and Terry Gilliam. He casts himself as Toad and with bulked out body is well suited to the part, although the shrilly annoying falsetto he delivers all the dialogue in quickly begins to weary. On the whole, this is a worthwhile, surprisingly faithful, surprisingly amiable and good-natured production of The Wind in the Willows. It deserved to be more successful than it was.

Film online in several parts beginning here:-

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