THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
A Cosgrove Hall Production
It was my dear departed Ma who introduced me to the magical children’s book, The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This was shortly after I graduated from high school, when I would periodically read chapters from the Winnie-The-Pooh series to her. Well, I fell in love with Grahame’s book (Mr. Toad is one of the greatest characters in English literature!), and about 1983 or ’84, I upgraded my little paperback copy to a really beautiful hardcover copy published by Grosset & Dunlap, which includes wonderful colorful illustrations. (That copy still sits proudly in a bookcase right next to The World Of Pooh by A. A. Milne.)
In 1989, my Ma purchased a VHS copy of this Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove “stop-motion” animated production of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS for my niece and nephew. Weeeeell… When I saw it, I instantly fell in love with it and obtained my own copy. (I would have stolen the copy from my Ma’s grandchildren, but that sort of thing usually earns one some nasty karma, and I seem to have all I can stand as it is, thank you very much!)
This movie is probably even better than the book, and I’ve already told you how the book is esteemed by me. From the first viewing, this became my all-time favorite stop-motion movie, and that has never changed. Oh sure, I love Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit -- particularly THE WRONG TROUSERS, with its punky penguin, Feathers McGraw. (I seriously considered using Feathers McGraw as my Amazon.com pen name when I wrote my first review for that website.) But, you know, nothing’s ever gonna catch MR. TOAD in my book. I mean, he drives awfully fast in that little motorcar!
In 1990, I took my VHS tape over to my then-girlfriend’s apartment, thinking that she might like to see it. (“The Countess” was a good ol’ gal, with an appreciation for the finer things in life, like the classic Tex Avery and Tom And Jerry cartoons.) Well, I played The Wind In The Willows for her once and unwittingly created a monster. She asked me to bring it a second time, which I did. And thereafter, every time I showed up at her apartment, the first words out of her mouth were, “Did you bring Mr. Toad?” And when I answered, “No”, she’d immediately begin to pout. It was as if she wasn’t happy to see me unless I was accompanied by that impertinent, little green amphibian. The first forty times, I thought she was just joking (I’m a bit dense), but after that it finally occurred to me that she had given her heart to Toad, and I truly was in the doghouse without him.
So, I finally wised up and bought The Countess her own copy of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, so she could watch it anytime she desired, and I thereby erased her perpetual pout. But I’ll tell ya the truth: That damned frog, I love the bloke, even if he did steal my girl.
This 78 minute stop-motion movie is filled with marvelous characters and memorable lines: Of course, there’s first and foremost “the famous Mr. Toad” (Don’t think he’s famous? Just ask him!) with his beloved horse-drawn caravan, which he disdains as a “common canary-colored cart” when he encounters his first motorcar. And then his motorcar mania which ultimately wreaks so much havoc, causing him to lose the family’s venerable Toad Hall. There’s sensible Ratty, sensitive Mole, the wascally Weasels, and old, stoic 'n' stout Mr. Badger. (Man! You just don’t mess with Badger! The Weasels found that out the HARD way. He was “Thumpin’ an’ thumpin’ an’ thumpin’” ‘em!)
And are there ever some funny lines that The Countess and I used for many years afterwards! (“Out of my way!”; “The chap’s a damn frog!”; "No. Take it away.") I love the scene where the young field mouse is trying to inform Mole about something and Mole admonishes him about his pronunciation, telling him not to drop his “H”s. And the little mouse obeys by saying, “It’s Toad, sir -– he’s got hisself harrested!” And there’s that moment when Ratty and Mole wander nearby Mole’s long-forgotten hole in the ground (Mole End) and he becomes unexpectedly homesick. Sniffling, he says in a low voice, “I smelt it and I wanted it.” The Countess and I got lots and lots of mileage out of that line. We used it for Italian restaurants, saloons, compact discs, movies, trips to Disneyland, and on and on. But the day she pointed to an engagement ring and said, “I smelt it and I wanted it”, I was forced to break her smeller.
But seriously, while there is lots of action in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, portions of it are a tad slow for the movie’s intended target age. There are a number of idyllic scenes (e.g., the “Up Tails All” duck sequence) that are likely to lose the interest of your youngsters (you know how they’re captivated only by the “Whizbang-Clangdang” stuff), and the thick English accents (that delight us) are sometimes going to be a bit tough for the kiddies to follow. But you know, to heck with them! Get this children’s movie for yourself and wait for your kids to “grow up” enough to fully appreciate it. But men, don’t let your wives see it or yer gonna lose ‘em to that suave ladies’... uhm... Toad.
Listen, I have to run now. I just got a phone call from the police department and I gotta go bail out my Brother, Napoleon. It seems he’s got hisself harrested hagain!
~ Stephen T. McCarthy