Having never read or seen The Wind in the Willows until two days ago, I was delighted to come across this faithful adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s book. This clean retelling preserves much of the plot, which concerns a few country friends and some motoring mishaps. Mole and Rat lead off the adventure, but it’s really Toad who steals the show.
We first meet Mole (Lee Ingleby) when he bumps into a new friend Rat (Mark Gatiss). Far more worldly and well dressed, Rat teaches the agreeable little creature the pleasures of aboveground leisure. The two soon find themselves in the company of Toad (Matt Lucas), a jolly spendthrift who is the lord of Toad Hall. His talent for squandering money and his taste for the latest transportation fads leads him down an increasingly reckless path. It’s Toad’s discovery of the motorcar, however, that prompt Mole and Rat to intervene. They venture into the woods, by foot, to seek Badger’s (Bob Hoskins) advice on reining in their friend.
The film’s fidelity to its source material is a testament to the story’s charm, and those who are familiar with the book will see most of the major episodes with little manipulation. A capable supporting cast pops up in some memorable cameos to push the plot along. Imelda Staunton plays a ruddy bargewoman, Jim Carter is an avuncular train engineer, and Anna Maxwell Martin and Mary Walsh help spring Toad from jail.
Of course the main stars are also skillful, transforming themselves into very believable country critters. The lean Ingleby cuts a different figure from the chubby Mole of animated incarnations, but he bursts with the awed innocence of someone who longs for a little adventure while still delighting in the comforts of home. Gatiss, meanwhile, brings a more learned air to Rat, his nose literally upturned at times, and Hoskins’s gruff demeanor allows Badger to put Toad in his place without being overly menacing. As for the great and fantastical Mr. Toad, Lucas’s exuberant performance is hard to turn away from, unless you’re determined to dislike the actor. In that case, you’ll find him insufferably over-the-top per usual, but I thought his theatrics suited the foolhardy Toad just fine.
Besides wise casting choices, the make-up and costuming departments also struck a nice balance. For a children’s movie filled with talking animals, there was little need to overcompensate with special effects, something I always find refreshing in the age of 3D and computer graphics. There were just enough fur mittens to keep an element of whimsy without distracting from the story or performances.
Prod: Justin Thomson-Glover, Patrick Irwin
Dir: Rachel Talalay
Writer: Lee Hall
Cast: Matt Lucas, Mark Gatiss, Lee Ingleby, Bob Hoskins, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Anna Maxwell Martin, Mary Walsh
Time: 99 min
Country: United Kingdom