Despite the occasional ANIMAL FARM (1955) and WATERSHIP DOWN (1978), British feature animation did not thrive on any scale approaching the Disney, Hanna-Barbara or Warner Brothers cartoon factories in Hollywood. Perhaps the best-established UK equivalent is London's TVC Animation Studio, which inked YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968), parts of HEAVY METAL (1981),...read more
Despite the occasional ANIMAL FARM (1955) and WATERSHIP DOWN (1978), British feature animation did not thrive on any scale approaching the Disney, Hanna-Barbara or Warner Brothers cartoon factories in Hollywood. Perhaps the best-established UK equivalent is London's TVC Animation Studio,
which inked YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968), parts of HEAVY METAL (1981), and in 1996 offered this faithful but flat rendering of Kenneth Grahame's classic 1908 novel.
An Edwardian-era mother (Vanessa Redgrave) reads The Wind in the Willows to her children in a boat. Tired of spring-cleaning chores, the normally timid Mole (voice of Alan Bennett) forsakes his underground den and seeks adventure on the Great River. He encounters Ratty (voice of Michael Palin), a
friendly rodent who introduces him to other animal characters in the adjoining Wild Wood: the imposing but good-natured Badger (voice of Michael Gambon) and the recklessly impulsive Toad (voice of Rik Mayall). Thanks to inherited wealth, Toad indulges every passing whim and mania. His obsession
with the newly-invented motorcar leads him far astray into the world of men, and into jail. Escaping back to the Wild Wood, Toad returns to his neglected Toad Hall to find it now a squatter's camp for a gang of weasels. Mole, Ratty, and Badger help a (briefly) repentant Toad clear out the
verminous intruders. In a subplot, Mole and Ratty search for a lost otter child and are rewarded with a glimpse of Great Pan, spirit of the forest.
Detailed artwork looks splendid enough to be illustrations on the pages of a color printing of The Wind and the Willows, and there's the rub; this static feature feels more like an inert storybook or CD-ROM, slavishly following the author's dense verbiage with insufficient vigor or life of its
own. When Walt Disney distilled this material down to a half-hour (released to theaters in 1949 doubled with his LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW under the umbrella title THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD), he deleted Grahame's romantic mysticism to focus on the frolicsome Toad. It wasn't the
book--but it was fun, a quality in short supply here despite the vocal cast of fine British character actors. Palin had the unusual distinction of playing in two Wind in the Willows features in succession. After this film, he reunited with fellow members of the Monty Python comedy team for a
strange, updated, live-action revision by Terry Jones, in which Eric Idle played Rat while Palin smiled down from on high as the Sun. Other animators in England and the US have yielded their own versions over the years, and even TVC encored with a cartoon of William Horwood's lesser-known literary
sequel The Willows in Winter.