Among the many animated versions of Kenneth Grahame’s nursery classic The Wind in the Willows, two in particular stand out: The 1996 BBC version directed by Dave Unwin, and this 1983 version by Mark Hall and Chris Taylor.
To complicate matters, though, 1983 and 1996 each saw not one but two adaptations of The Wind in the Willows. Don’t confuse the 1996 Unwin film with the other 1996 version, directed by Monty Python alum Terry Jones, a satirically revisionist production known in the US as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. And the charming 1983 stop-motion Hall/Taylor version shouldn’t be confused with the 1983 costume version by John Driver.
For fidelity to the source material, Grahame fans may find the 1996 Unwin film the most satisfying. But for atmosphere, for style, for the best evocation of the spirit and feel of The Wind in the Willows, you can’t do better than the Hall/Taylor version. The beguiling stop-motion animation is classier and visually richer than the rather pedestrian cel animation of Unwin’s film. And the cast, with Richard Pearson as Mole, Ian Carmichael as Rat, David Jason as Toad, and Michael Hordern as Badger, is unexcelled. Only the absence of the numinous Pan scene and a few unnecessary liberties mar this lovely film.
Like the Peter Rabbit episodes, The Wind in the Willows begins and ends with charming live-action sequences, this time featuring a narrator (Vanessa Redgrave) telling the story to some children. Once again episodes and dialogue are drawn straight from the source material, though with Grahame’s much longer story more editing has been necessary. The animation, though less striking than Peter Rabbit’s lovely watercolor backgrounds, evokes the classic illustrations of Ernest Shepard.
With evocative watercolor backgrounds and character design strongly reminiscent of Potter’s illustrations, animation ranging from fine to excellent, and dialogue and narrative drawn straight from the source material, the series is remarkably faithful to the text, spirit, and look of Potter’s beloved stories.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.