Wind in the Willows (1997)

One might expect a bit of imaginative anarchy, a touch of licentiousness from a movie featuring the Monty Python crew, even if it is a movie made wth kids in mind. And that's just what one gets in *The Wind In The Willows*, Pythoneer Terry Jones' adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic novel of anthropomorphic woodland dwellers. Many liberties are taken with the text, but it is altogether a fitting, if loose, adaptation that captures well the spirit of the book and its mix of human and animal characters, forest idyll and mechanical menace.

Jones is Mr. Toad -- just barely. Leaving less to makeup and more to the imagination, Toad and his mates Mole (Steve Coogan), Ratty (Eric Idle) and Badger (Nicol Williamson) are realized as mostly humanoid creatures. Toad has only a touch of green in his skin, although his tongue is quite long and adept. Ratty the river rat has a long, hairy tail and whiskers that jut out from his mustache, but his tweeds are always tidy, and he is uncommonly fond of picnics. Sad, timid Mole wears glasses, while bristly Badger sports big mutton chops and a bushy tail. The various humans in the tale generally occupy positions in law enforcement and motor car sales. One of the delights of *The Wind In The Willows* is the way that the distinction between humans and animals is so fuzzy -- at times, a big bushy tail peeking out from under hoop skirts is the only hint that a fair lady isn't quite what she seems. Nine out of ten residents in this neck of the woods is a rabbit, and although the species is equipped with long ears and cotton tails, they are most recognizable for their always amorous and forever multiplying ways.

*The Wind In The Willows* concerns, as does the book, Mr. Toad's utter obsession with motor cars. He's an appalling driver, which results in a great many crack ups, and the frequent need for new cars. T'is there the movie diverges rather sharply from the book, as Mr.Toad's financial salvation, the local weasel gang who are only too happy to assist him in funding his extravagant lifestyle, turn out to be somewhat more menacing than your average collection agency. The weasels, it seems, are woodland loan sharks, and they have plans to build a dog food factory on Toad's soon-to-be-forfeited ancestral estate. Naturally, being weasels, they are dangerous villains, with nasty little teeth and plans for world domination. Their black and red W logo looks suspiciously like the emblem of the Third Reich.

So while Ratty, Mole and Badger try to cure Toad of his motor mania, the fascist weasels scheme, laying waste to the woodland while they're at it. (A side trip to the local court features a hilarious apperance by John Cleese, demanding, as Toad's defense attorney, that the book be thrown, quite hard, at his car thieving client.) Adventures ensue, as adventures must, when the friends try to save Mr. Toad's home, and eventually, Mr. Toad himself, from a dog food factory fate.

Does *The Wind In The Willows* make trenchant, even educational points about protecting the environment and fighting totalitarianism? Does it advocate loyalty and friendship over narcissism, gluttony and materialism? Well, of course it does, but it has a great deal of fun doing it, which is to say, this is no *Sesame Street* outing. The unexpected frequently occurs, although, this being a movie mostly for kids, certain plot points are, like Toad's titanic tongue, rather obvious when revealed.

*The Wind In The Willows* makes fine and fanciful use of English scenery, castles and all. The cast, heavy on Pythoneers (Michael Palin is luminous and loopy as the know-it-all Sun) is kid-friendly, but the performances have a fun, devil-may-care audacity about them, coupled with an unexpected quantity of conviction for a bunch of blokes wearing tails and whiskers.