Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows, first published in 1908, originally conceived the book as a fantasy for his young son, Alastair. Grahame later claimed the stories were only idyllic reminiscences of the Edwardian countryside. They are that, all right, but to say they are nothing more would be like saying Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance is simply a play about naval high jinks.
Each of the animal characters brought to life in this enchanting color film, made in 1983, has its own personality and, in some cases, eccentricities, based on Grahame’s observations of the British gentry. Though it would be reaching to call Grahame’s jabs biting social commentary, his insights on the foibles of Rat, Mole, Badger, and the aristocratic and shamelessly self-indulgent Toad are readily apparent and amusing to adults. Most children will miss the subtleties but enjoy the humor and adventure. This tape, one of four in a series featuring Grahame’s animal characters, centers on the misadventures of Toad, who, despite friends’ advice, insists on driving one car after another, even though his journeys end in disaster.
The animated models, filmed in a series of stop-action shots, appear to move naturally. Everything else about this production works too, from the careful costuming of the animals and meticulous detailing of the pastoral scenes to the complementary orchestration and memorable vocal characterizations (by a cast that includes Ian Carmichael and Sir Michael Hordern). A