Disney’s version of “The Wind in the Willows”

Mr Toad and Horse

My girlfriend and I enjoyed a fun treat tonight — watching the Disney version of The Wind in the Willows. When I was a kid, I’d loved “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland, and now that I’m older I’ve also had a chance to appreciate the original book by Kenneth Grahame. Yet somehow through all that, I’ve never had a chance to see the entire cartoon by Walt Disney — at least, not since I was a kid. So tonight, I was finally going to get to watch it.

There’s a fascinating history behind the movie. Walt Disney started animating the film in 1941, and it would’ve been only the fifth feature-length film ever released by the Disney studios, according to Wikipedia. But of course, World War II reached the U.S. at the end of the year, and some of Disney’s animators were drafted. Even his finished cartoons were impossible to distribute overseas in the biggest markets. So the project was put on hold…

It didn’t start again until 1945 — and by then, it was trimmed down until it was just half of a two-story movie. (The other half being The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.) This leaves the movie feeling kind of lopsided — although it also feels more like a storybook instead of a Walt Disney cartoon, with Basil Rathbone providing the narration.

“If you were asked to choose the most fabulous character in English literature, who would it be? Robin Hood? King Arthur? Becky Sharp? Sherlock Holmes? Oliver Twist, perhaps? Well, any one of them would be an excellent choice. Still, for the most fabulous character of all, I would nominate… a toad….”

I think I was most disappointed by the fact that there is no wild ride in the movie. At least, not with a motor car. But at least there is one delightfully reckless scene where Toad crashes through the countryside in a horse-drawn carriage — singing a duet with his horse! This is the moment that catches the giddy joy of the character that I’ll always remember, as he sings — with his horse — that “we’re merrily on our way, to nowhere at all!”

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