The Wind in the Willows (1996 film)

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The Wind in the Willows
Wind in the willows dvd.jpg
UK DVD front cover
Directed by Terry Jones
Produced by Jake Eberts
John Goldstone
Screenplay by Terry Jones
Based on Novel:
Kenneth Grahame
Starring Steve Coogan
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Antony Sher
Nicol Williamson
John Cleese
Michael Palin
Stephen Fry
Bernard Hill
Julia Sawalha
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography David Tattersall
Edited by Julian Doyle
Production
  company
Allied Filmmakers
Distributed by United Kingdom
Pathé
Australia
Hoyts Distribution
United States
Walt Disney Pictures
International
Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) United Kingdom
18 October 1996
Australia
10 April 1997
United States
31 October 1997
Running time 87 min.
Language English
Box office £1,143,011 + $72,844

The Wind in the Willows (released on home video in the U.S. as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride), is a loose 1996 adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic novel of the same name. It was also notable in that it starred John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones (who also directs and writes this version), and Michael Palin (all of whom were previous Monty Python members). [1]

Plot[edit]

Mole's (Steve Coogan) underground home is knocked in when the field above it is bulldozed by the Weasels; the field was owned by Mr. Toad (Terry Jones), who has sold it to finance his latest fad: caravanning. Mole flees to the river and meets the Water Rat (Eric Idle), who is preparing to embark on a picnic. Seeing Mole's distress, Rat decides to take Mole to see Toad. Toad encourages them to travel with him on the open road, in his newly bought canary-coloured cart. Disaster strikes when a pair of joyriders in a motor car knock over the cart. Rat calms Toad's horse instead of Mole. Toad, however, instantly discards the cart and becomes obsessed with motoring. He is a reckless driver, however, and ends up needing more money from the Weasels. Their volatile Chief (Antony Sher) tries to persuade him to sell Toad Hall.

The Chief has three main cronies. Clarence (Keith-Lee Castle) and Geoffrey (Richard James) are his henchmen, though Clarence and Geoffrey passionately hate each other; and St. John (Robert Bathurst) attempts to suck up to the Chief, but his bumbling stupidity always rubs the Chief the wrong way.

During a crazy drive into the Wild Wood, resulting in the destruction of another car, all Toad, Rat, and Mole are lost in the inhospitable lair of the Weasels. The Weasels attempt to coerce Mole into stopping his friends from interfering with their plans. Toad, after fleeing when Rat, arrives and also runs into the Weasels. Toad, Rat, and Mole end up in Mr. Badger's underground abode. Badger (Nicol Williamson), a close friend of Toad's late father who feels responsible for Toad's reckless conduct regarding his inheritance, decides to end Toad's obsession with motor cars.

However, Toad refuses to listen to Badger and continues his reckless behavior which ultimately gets him arrested for stealing and crashing a motor-car outside a pub. Toad proceeds to call the policeman a 'nincompoop' (which Badger called him earlier). During his trial, Toad's defense lawyer (John Cleese) proves to be more of a problem than the prosecution is. Furthermore, the Weasels are dominating the public box. The Chief Weasel poses as one of the rabbits in the Jury and coerces the terrified creatures into finding Toad guilty. The Judge (Stephen Fry) initially orders Toad to be hanged, but after being told by the clerk that he can no longer hang prisoners, he sentences Toad to twenty years in prison. After Toad insults the Court and makes a botched escape attempt, the enraged Judge gradually increases the sentence, eventually resulting in a hundred-year sentence. Toad is then dragged by bodyguards to the castle's dungeon. Back in Toad Hall, while feeling sorry for Toad, Rat and Mole are confronted by the Weasels, who throw them out and annex Toad Hall for themselves. Knowing they have no choice but to drive the Weasels out of Toad Hall, Rat and Mole dig underground to the castle to free Toad. Meanwhile, Toad cries and realizes that he has paid dearly for his obsession with motor-cars. With the help of the sympathetic Jailer's Daughter (Julia Sawalha) and her reluctant Tea Lady Aunt (a cameo from Victoria Wood), Toad escapes, disguised as the latter, despite Rat suggesting that Toad escapes through a tunnel he and Mole built underneath Toad's cell.

Having realized Toad left his wallet in his cell, Toad, Rat, and Mole climb aboard a train engine. During the course of the journey, the police, who have stowed away on the train, demand it be stopped; Toad confesses who he is and begs the driver (Bernard Hill) to help him evade his captors. If only to protect his train, the driver agrees to help. He tosses coal lumps at the police, but gets caught in a mail catcher. Toad takes control of the train and is separated. He eventually crashes the engine, though he miraculously survives. Toad sets off again but only to get caught again by the Weasels.

The full extent of their twisted plans are revealed: they have built a dog-food factory over the remains of Mole's house and are planning to blow up Toad Hall and build a huge slaughterhouse in its place, with which they will turn all of the peaceful Riverbank dwellers into dog food. Their activities have also damaged Badger's home, which provokes him into taking decisive action against them. Badger and Rat attempt to break into Toad Hall disguised as weasels, but are unmasked. Along with Toad, they are placed in the factory's mincing machine under the orders of the Chief Weasel. The Chief, Clarence and Geoffrey return to Toad Hall to prepare the victory celebration, leaving St. John in charge of the machine. Mole, who has broken into the factory, disables the machine, enabling Toad, Badger, and Rat to escape.

Lulled by a premature sense of victory, the Chief Weasel's henchmen turn traitor and attempt to blow him up using a Toad Hall-shaped birthday cake. Clarence and Geoffrey begin quarreling among themselves for leadership, with the other Weasels drunkenly taking sides. This distraction allows the protagonists to stage a raid on the house, leaving all of the weasels incapacitated in the ensuing fight. However, the Chief is revealed to still be alive and on the run. Toad attempts to stop him from reaching the factory, which contains the detonator to blow up Toad Hall, to no avail. Unbeknownst to both of them, the explosives are actually in the factory (Rat had switched the labels on the explosive's containers earlier in the film, leading the Weasels to believe the explosives were actually bone supplies for the factory), and as such the Chief blows up himself along with the factory, leaving Toad Hall untouched and Toad's friends alive and well.

Afterwards, Toad makes a public speech swearing off motor cars and promising to be wiser and less prideful in the future. Toad then sneaks off during a song with Mole, Rat and Badger, and is seen speaking to an airplane salesman, showing that he has simply moved on to a new craze. Toad flies over the crowd in the plane, causing mass hysteria and resulting in Badger swearing to never help Toad again. Toad, however, has finally found a craze which suits him- during the end credits, he is seen flying all over the country and eventually over the sea.

Songs featured in the film[edit]

  • "Messing About On The River" (Tony Hatch) – sung at the beginning by Rat, as he and Mole set out for a picnic on the river
  • "Secret of Survival" – sung by the Weasels, explaining that they're only out for themselves
  • "Mr. Toad" – sung by Toad, with lyrics taken directly from the novel, split into three sections (one covering his escape from Toad Hall, one during his trial and one after his train crash)
  • "Friends Is What We Is" – sung by Toad, Badger, Mole and Rat, as they drive the Weasels out of Toad Hall and during the party at the end
  • "Miracle of Friends" – the song played during the end credits

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The Wind in the Willows was produced by Allied Filmmakers in the UK and was then distributed by Columbia Pictures (1997 /USA), Columbia TriStar, Pathé and Walt Disney Home Video (2004 /USA). Terry Jones (who plays Mr. Toad), one of the legendary Monty Python cast, teamed up with some of the remaining Pythons to bring the classic tale up to date for another generation to enjoy. Eric Idle as Rat, plays a major role, but John Cleese and Michael Palin have only small roles. John Cleese plays Toad's inept defence lawyer, and Michael Palin plays a sardonic talking Sun, who occasionally chastises Toad for his reckless behaviour, and briefly speaks to Ratty and Mole. Terry Gilliam was asked to voice "The River" but busy filming schedules kept him from joining the cast. "The River" only has one instance of dialogue in the entire film- he is shown with a mouth and sings a couple of lines of the first song.

Filming and locations[edit]

Distribution problems in the U.S.[edit]

When the film first appeared in the U.S. under its original title, it got pushed aside due to distributors' problems and very little promotional material was published. Takings in the UK had been low because the film had largely been shown only in the afternoon.[2] Subsequently, New York papers wondered why such a wonderful children's film was dumped by distributors. The New York Times published a very positive review by Lawrence Van Gelder.[3] Yet, to add to the confusion, Disney Productions, in their video release changed its name to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, to tie into their amusement park ride (the Walt Disney World version of which was put to an end in 1998).

At the time of the film's US release Terry Jones, who was working on a documentary in New York, was told by telephone that the film was being shown in a cinema on Times Square. Jones rushed down to the square only to discover that the film was showing at ".. one of those seedy little porno theatres.”.[2]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

In the U.K. the film sub-totaled £1,143,011 (17 November 1996) and in the U.S.A $72,844 (2 November 1997) on 65 screens.

Critical response[edit]

The film holds a 75% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[4] and holds three stars out of five on the film critic website AllMovie.com.[5] Film critic Mike Hertenstein wrote a positive critical review of the film.[6]

The films won the Best of the Fest award at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in 1998 and the WisKid Award at the Wisconsin International Children's Film Festival in 2000.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]