Friday, April 2, 2021

THE 2021 CLASSIC LITERATURE ON FILM BLOGATHON: The Wind in the Willows, 1949 and 1983


Paul Batters at Silver Screen Classics is our host for The 2021 Classic Literature On Film Blogathan on April 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. The articles: day oneday twoday three

 


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) grew out of bedtime stories for the Scottish author's only son Alastair (1900-1920). Grahame was an older father, whose own childhood was interrupted by death and displacement and does not seem to have easily communicated with a son dealing with health problems. The stories of the denizens of the riverbank and wildwood may not have been the perfect familial bridge, but have survived to the delight of generations of other families and readers.

The tale of Rat messing about in his boats, and Mole discovering the world above ground, of the disruptive otters, the mystical Pan, the wise old Badger, and of the impetuous and conceited Toad of Toad Hall is reflective, amusing, and adventurous. 


The story of Toad's run-in with the law due to his mania for motor cars was adapted for the stage by A.A. Milne in 1929 as Toad of Toad Hall. This was the first of many adaptations on stage and screen, both big and small to this day.


The Disney Studio released the compilation film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in 1949. Since that initial theatrical release, the two segments have often been shown or released as separate shorts. "Ichabod" refers to Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow narrated by Bing Crosby. Basil Rathbone narrated The Wind in the Willows having chosen Toad as "the greatest character in British literature" over Sherlock Holmes.

Eric Blore as Toad

While the Disney script touches on the dry humour of the characters, and their manners and traditions, they follow the route taken by Milne's play. This animated featurette focuses on Toad and his escapades. Toad is the wealthiest of all the animals along the river. The grand estate Toad Hall is the community's pride. Toad, who considers himself the best of fellows and the best of friends is a bit of a loose cannon. No one knows quite when a new obsession will overtake him and in pursuit of his single-minded adventures, he never considers the consequences.

Claud Alister as Rat

When motorcars enter his life, Toad becomes completely unhinged and is jailed as a car thief. Toad's escape and his reclaiming of his ancestral home from the true villains give the artists and animators an opportunity to cut loose with a rollicking slapstick finale. The backgrounds and the character design are exquisitely done and the colours a mix of the subdued and the vibrant to compliment the story. Imprudent he may be, but Toad in a Disney movie is no thief. 

J. Pat O'Malley as Cyril Proudbottom

The voice cast adds immeasurably to the story. Eric Blore (Top Hat) as Toad is just as one would imagine him. Claud Alister, who was a perfect Algy Longworth to Ralph Richardson's Bulldog Drummond was born to play the Water Rat, as well as Sir Giles in Disney's The Reluctant Dragon.


Disney put two characters of their own in the story. First, Toad's companion in trouble, a horse named Cyril Proudbottom voiced by J. Pat O'Malley (The Jungle Book) who is a hoot, then a barman named Winkie voiced by the Oscar-winning composer of Dumbo, Oliver Wallace.

Toad on the page takes to the country in a lavishly outfitted caravan with his friends Rat and Mole. Toad on the screen and the disreputable Cyril rampage throughout the countryside foretelling Toad's attitude once he gets into a motorcar. The pair have their own rollicking theme, The Merrily SongIt was the inspiration for the popular Disneyland attraction, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. 

This entertaining musical short is a fun introduction to these characters, as it was for my children, with genuine laughs and memorable moments. Over the years, I have become quite fond of the entire effect bracketed by the wry narration of Basil Rathbone.


Cosgrove Hall Films 1983 TV movie The Wind in the Willows is a total charmer. It begins with the music. The theme by Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe conveys the memory of something long ago and a lullaby. We are prepared to enjoy the storytelling. 

The fidelity to its source is wisely presented, editing judiciously and highlighting fondly recalled characters and events. The artist's backgrounds provide a real-world for the characters to inhabit. The character design is meticulous and the stop-motion animation is top-notch.

Ian Carmichael

The voice casting and the work of the actors is delightful. Ian Carmichael is the dreamy and stubborn Rat. Richard Pearson the shy and loyal Mole. Sir Michael Horden is the wise and no-nonsense Badger. David Jason is the unforgettable Toad.

Peter Sallis, Sir Michael Horden, David Jason, Richard Pearson

The Wind in the Willows' popularity led to a television series, 1984-1988 which saw Ian Carmichael taking on the role of the narrator and Peter Sallis performing the role of Rat.

The seasons and all their customs, their opportunity to enjoy life in the country are leisurely presented. The enduring friendship of our characters is touchingly told. The troublesome Toad is what he is, everybody knows it, and although he brings his closest pals to their wit's end, no animal will be left behind (except for weasels and stoats, and the like).

Toad on the page and Toad on the screen are harmonious in the adventure of the caravan. They have their own theme to share in On the Open Road. Wouldn't you love to have that caravan?

The Wind in the Willows was awarded the BAFTA in 1984 for Best Children's Programme (Entertainment/Drama) and nominated for Best Animated Film. 

Adaptions of The Wind in the Willows are numerous and varied on the stage, on television, in movies, both live action, and all manner of animation. Perhaps your favourite is one of the many or one yet to be produced. The two highlighted here retain a special place in my heart.
















38 comments:

  1. I think I read this as a kid, though I may be confusing it with other books about talking animals. Not sure.

    So when this was a play in 1929, did they put on funny animal costumes?

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    1. The text of the play indicates that the actors were indeed masked. I have searched but as of yet have not found any contemporary photographs. It is good to have a quest.

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  2. I love the comparison of the two versions. I'm sorry I missed taking part in this blogathon, what a great idea. "Ichabod," by the way, is a Halloween staple in our our.

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    1. Thanks. It was comforting to revisit these versions steeped in so much nostalgia.

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  3. GLORIA HENRY is 98 today! She is best known as the mom ALICE MITCHELL on DENNIS THE MENACE(1959-63). (I remember that you said that you never saw that show. I saw a few eps in 1988 on NICKELODEON.) It starred JAY NORTH as DENNIS and HERBERT ANDERSON played the dad/husband. Have you seen Gloria in any movies?

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    1. Kill the Umpire, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, and Rancho Notorious are movies I remember with Gloria Henry.

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  4. J. PAT O'MALLEY! I bet you and your family know most of his voice-over work. He also played ROB PETRIE's dad SAM on two eps of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. How many eps did TOM TULLY do? J. Pat and Tom guest starred on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. J. Pat did a black and white one when DON KNOTTS was still on the show and Tom did a color one.

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    1. "Sam Petrie. Good old Sam Petrie. Love doing business with Sam..."

      Indeed, J. Pat O'Malley is ubiquitous in the entertainment that delights generations of our family.

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  5. I was going by ANONYMOUS and am now going by CLASSIC TV FAN. (It still might show up as ANONYMOUS sometimes.)

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  6. Thanks for this lovely post Paddy, the 1983 version brought me back to my childhood and some great memories of watching it. I adored the way you wrote about this too, I can tell just how much you adore it. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you so much, Gill. I couldn't be more pleased with your reaction to this post. I had a wonderful time writing it.

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  7. Though I know the book, I haven't seen either of these versions. However, I don't think I can think of any more suitable voices for the world of Kenneth Grahame than those of the wonderful and delightful actors Eric Blore, Claud Alister, Richard Pearson, Michael Hordern, and Ian Carmichael (and, of course, Basil Rathbone) - it gives me something to look forward to!

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    1. Indeed. These actors slip into their roles so comfortably. I'm sure you will find much to enjoy.

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  8. I read the book as a kid & could not put it down, and was lucky to see the 1949 version on television around the same time. For those sentimental reasons, the 1949 version can't be beat, but I think I should revisit the 1983 version.

    Thanks for a great review (as always).

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience with the book and movies. And a Happy Easter, the season of renewal means more to you this year I imagine.

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  9. This sounds like such fun! I can't believe I've never seen any cinematic versions. Eric Blore as Toad? That convinced me all by itself!

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    1. Our kids (son in particular) would watch The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on a loop, and ever since whenever we run into Eric Blore my husband shouts "Toady!"

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  10. These two films sound whimsical and gentle without being boring -- a refreshing change from contemporary animated films.

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  11. I mentioned that GLORIA HENRY turned 98 on Friday. Sadly her passing was the next day.

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  12. I mentioned that J. PAT O'MALLEY did two eps of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. This was in 1962 and 1964. Then TOM TULLY did two eps. This was in 1964 and 1966. I didn't remember that WILL WRIGHT played the part first. This was in 1961 (just one ep). Will did three eps of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. He played BEN WEAVER. I think you would like his second ep-ANDY FORECLOSES. P.S. All three actors guest starred on TAGS.

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    1. Will Wright, like Ian Wolfe, is one of those actors who looked like he was 100 while he was still in his 40s.

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  13. CHARLES LANE was another character actor that looked older than his age.

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  14. Today ROY THINNES turns 83! He did three eps of MURDER, SHE WROTE. I read that he played the lead in the short-lived prime time soap THE LONG HOT SUMMER. P.S. J. PAT O'MALLEY had a part in the movie THE LONG HOT SUMMER. ANGELA LANSBURY(M.S.W.) was also in it!

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    1. Charles Lane lived to 102!

      I didn't realize it was Roy Thinnes' birthday. He was one of the original stars of General Hospital. His sci-fi show The Invaders is classic.

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  15. Former actress YVONNE LIME is 86 today! She had a part in the ELVIS movie LOVING YOU and guest starred on shows in the 60s. Yvonne is the widow of DON FEDDERSON who produced FAMILY AFFAIR and MY THREE SONS. She did an ep of My Three Sons.

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  16. Yvonne Lime, now known as YVONNE FEDDERSON, is the stepmother of MIKE MINOR(PETTICOAT JUNCTION) and GREGG FEDDERSON who did some eps of FAMILY AFFAIR. Yvonne became involved with charity work especially CHILD HELP USA.

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    1. That was very interesting information. The Fedderson shows were a big part of my childhood.

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  17. I always have loved The Wind and The Willows. I remember seeing the Mr. Toad portion of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad when very young and it remains one of my favourite things Disney ever did. I have always wanted to see the 1983 Wind and the Willows, as I have heard some great things bout it!

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    1. I was very impressed with the stop motion and the heart in that film.

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  18. Paddy Lee, I wish nothing but the best for you and have a safe and speedy recovery from your long-awaited kidney transplant operation. I hope everything goes well for you now, and into the future.

    Stay safe and healthy.

    Best Wishes,
    Walter S.

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    1. Thank you so much, Walter. It is an arduous but exciting journey.

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  19. I haven't watched this one because I just can't stand Toad in the book. I thoroughly enjoy every chapter he's not in, and groan my way through all of his. Sigh. But I should watch the Ichabod section!

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    1. Toad can certainly be quite a pill, can't he? I guess that's the point about friends. None of us is perfect, but boy what some what put up with!

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  20. While I enjoy all the different versions in different ways, none of them can quite capture the celebration of friendship found in Kenneth Grahame's classic novel. It's funny--the first time I started reading it, I put it down after 20 pages. I tried it again a few years later and it has been a favorite book ever since.

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    1. I can honestly say the same thing. I guess things come to you when they should.

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