There are a number of animated versions of The Wind in the Willows, and two from 1996 alone. Of these two, the version more likely to please fans of Grahame’s book is not the satiric revisionist production distributed in the U.S. by Disney as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and directed by Monty Python alum Terry Jones. Rather, it is the BBC version from the producers of the excellent World of Peter Rabbit and Friends series, directed by Dave Unwin and distributed on DVD and VHS by GoodTimes.
Like the Peter Rabbit episodes, The Wind in the Willows begins and ends with charming live-action sequences, this time featuring a narrator (Vanessa Redgrave) telling the story to some children. Once again episodes and dialogue are drawn straight from the source material, though with Grahame’s much longer story more editing has been necessary. The animation, though less striking than Peter Rabbit’s lovely watercolor backgrounds, evokes the classic illustrations of Ernest Shepard.
Note: Beware a disappointing sequel from the same filmmakers, The Willows in Winter, based on an apocryphal book sequel not by Grahame but by William Horwood. Human characters figure much more prominently, and unpleasantly, than in the original, and the moral is deeply muddled. On DVD the two films come on one disc, but the whole value of the DVD is in the first film.
For atmosphere, for style, for the best evocation of the spirit and feel of The Wind in the Willows, you can’t do better than the Hall/Taylor version.
With evocative watercolor backgrounds and character design strongly reminiscent of Potter’s illustrations, animation ranging from fine to excellent, and dialogue and narrative drawn straight from the source material, the series is remarkably faithful to the text, spirit, and look of Potter’s beloved stories.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.