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 one, day two, day 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.
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.
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 Song. It 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.
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.