Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The sequel Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters has us reflecting on stellar kid-lit adaptations.
The Wind In The Willows (1996)
Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 kid-lit classic The Wind In The Willows has inspired some wacky adaptations over the years. Anyone who’s been to Disneyland (or visited Disney World between 1971 and 1998) has fond memories of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, by far the most anarchic attraction in the otherwise placid Fantasyland. And while there have been numerous movie versions, the most notable is the 1996 film that very nearly amounts to a Monty Python reunion. Directed by Terry Jones and featuring all the surviving Pythons except Terry Gilliam, it’s immediately unusual for being live-action rather than animated, since all of Grahame’s characters are anthropomorphic animals. Rather than burden the actors with silly costumes, however, Jones lets your imagination do most of the work. Eric Idle plays Rat, for example, but he’s a decidedly humanoid rat, outfitted only with a tail and a mustache that strongly resembles whiskers.
It’s a bold decision, and a smart one. Instead of expending its energy on tedious acting-class exercises, the cast is free to concentrate on conveying the wit and whimsy of these inherently lovable creatures, who must defend their beloved meadows from a group of ornery Weasels. (Despite all that Python genius, the movie’s most delectable performance comes from the little-known Antony Sher as the Chief Weasel—a masterpiece of Snidely Whiplash villainy.) Admittedly, this Wind is hampered by several crummy show tunes, which inexplicably were not written by Idle, Python’s resident songsmith (“Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life,” etc.); each number stops the film cold, forcing it to slowly gather steam again. When it does, however, it’s that true rarity: the live-action kid-flick that doesn’t patently condescend to its presumed audience. And for anyone who misses seeing Jones, Idle, John Cleese, and Michael Palin together (the latter two in minor roles, please note), it’s likely your last nostalgia trip.
Availability: A DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix’s disc delivery service, and streaming for free on YouTube.