The Wind in the Willows is a book that enchants adults and bores children. Kids have no patience for its nostalgic lyricism, lovingly written though it may be. So you can't blame director/screenwriter/star Terry Jones (formerly of Monty Python's Flying Circus) for emphasizing the boisterous aspects of the story and taking some liberties with the plot. Unfortunately, in spicing things up he's also fallen prey to the same kind of formulaic plotting that turns so many action movies to drivel.
The Wind in the Willows
directed by Terry Jones
starring Terry Jones, Eric Idle,
Opens November 25, the Varsity
When the home of gentle Mole (Steve Coogan) is destroyed by earth-moving machinery, he runs to his good friend Rat (Eric Idle). Rat tries to brighten Mole's spirits with a trip down the river to Toad Hall, where perhaps the wealthy but foolish Toad (Jones) will have some inkling of what's happened. It turns out that Toad has sold Mole's meadow to finance buying a horse and caravan, his newest toy. But when a motorcar runs him off the road, this new invention seizes his interest. Toad immediately buys a motorcar of his own and careens wildly through field and forest, crashing into everything in sight. His obsession with speed blinds him to the plot unfolding around him; a gang of weasels are stealthily buying up his property for nefarious purposes. Mole, Rat, and stern Badger (Nicol Williamson) must save Toad from his folly if they hope to save their own cozy homes.
Rather than use animatronics or Muppets, Jones has given his actors just the right cosmetic touches to suggest their animal selves. Mole has a delicate, upturned nose, on which are perched thick spectacles; Rat has a bristly mustache and a long, hairless tail emerging from his trousers; Toad is corpulent and green, but still wears an Edwardian suit. The characterizations are equally sharp—particularly Toad's. Pompous, conceited, craven, extravagant, and foolhardy, Toad lurches gleefully from one mishap to another, never losing his unfettered craving for new sensations. Though the book no doubt intended him to be a bad example, Toad's careless exuberance makes him charming, even charismatic.
But like Toad himself, the moviemakers feel that better means faster, bigger, louder. The ending degenerates into a long brawl between our heroes and the wicked weasels, punctuated with enormous explosions. Halfway through the film, a weary Toad has a brief chat with the sun, who chides him for stealing a car. The bright whimsy of that exchange was much more fun than yet another big bang.