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IN SHORT: Charming. It's going to be a big kidlet vid.
1999: Released on video as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Still highly recommended.
You had about a week, give or take, to catch Terry Jones' big screen adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, featuring Eric Idle and all the British members of Monty Python's Flying Service (except for Graham Chapman, who's dead). If you have nostalgic recollection of your parents reading the story to you as a kidlet, or if you are (or have) kids age 10 or less, you can't fail to be delighted. If you are in the 20-30 year age gap in between, you couldn't care less.
With very little makeup (save some teeth or ears or a tail), the actors do that anthropomorphic thing: Jones as the effusive, unstoppable Mr. Toad; Idle as Rat; Steve Coogan as the timid Mole and Nicol Williamson as the stern Badger. Anthony Sher leads the bad guys, the Weasels of Wild Wood.
When it was written 90 years ago, The Wind in the Willows was a delightful children's book with lots of adult symbolic value. Each animal represented a different socio-economic class in English society and the whole thing was framed by a fear of technology and a new political philosophy called Communism. Study it in college.
The movie version keeps the early 1900s setting, with the extremely rich Mr. Toad spending all his inherited gains on modes of transportation that go faster and faster, squealing with delight at the speed and withdrawing like a junkie each time he crashes a car and has to wait for a new one. Stoking his habit are the Weasels, who trade cash for land and intend to take all the fun out of living by the River by building a factory and turning all the riverside wildlife (moles, badgers, rabbits and so forth) into dog food. Toad's friend Rat uncovers the plan when the weasels destroy Mole's home in the Meadow that Toad sold.
Yeah, I know, it reads ridiculous. But it's not. Jones has kicked up the pace of the story, with car crashes and explosions and huge industrial machines that blot out the horizon and make lots of noise. Yet, it's almost as if he knows that he could easily Pythonize this story (which is in the Public Domain, so he can do what he wants). He comes close -- you'll recognize some scenes that look like early Python movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and musical numbers come from the same team that wrote for Life of Brian -- but holds back. It's just enough that the story remains quaint. It's not enough to bring anyone but us old fogeys and the very young into the theaters.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Wind in the Willows, he would have paid . . .
With the exceptions laid out in the first 'graph (which includes Cranky and all the other critics who saw this movie early and walked out with big smiles on their faces) buy the tape and show it to your kids.
Or wait until the
wee hours of the morning and get some milk and cookies, plop down in front
of the TV with your most comfy blankie and enjoy a sinful pleasure.
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