Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Disney's The Wind in the Willows

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad released in 1949, is the 11th Disney film and sixth and final package film. It is by far my favorite of the package films having a great mixture of silly and downright spooky. Disney wanted to make The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame into a full length film, but like all his other prospective films, had to be put on the shelf for a while. Like Bongo, and Mickey and the Beanstalk, The Wind and the Willows would be used instead for a short instead of a full length. Many parts of the first draft were dropped to condense the film. Disney had really attempted to make it a full length, attaining the rights in 1938. While trying, his writers kept getting hung up by the Hays Code. I will make a whole post dedicated to the Hays Code, but for now, I will just say that it was basically the moral code of the early days of cinema. In the original story, Toad steals a car and escapes from jail. This wouldn't do for the animated feature. The Hays Code strictly said that the audience wasn't supposed to feel sympathy for a wrong-doer. I know, it was a really dumb code. Finding they couldn't get the movie made while following the original story, they changed it to make Toad framed for stealing the car instead. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was used, though a dark story in comparison to The Wind in the Willows, Walt Disney liked the idea of pairing a British story with an American story. Sleepy Hollow was put second, as if it was put first, it would make The Wind and the Willows seem darker.

The Wind in the Willows follows the characters of Mr. Toad, Ratty, Moley, MacBadger, and Toad's horse, Cyril J. Proudbottom. The segment is narrated by Basil Rathbone, a famous British actor who was most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes. Toad is described as being an eccentric character, prone to manias. He follows fad after fad. He is very rich and resides in Toad Hall, the biggest and most extravagant house along the river bank. Though he is rich, he has very little true friends. Moley, Ratty, and MacBadger are the only people who support him in both good and bad weather. Ratty is the sensible one, chiding Toad for his eccentric nature. Moley is the gullible and simple character, easily tricked by Toad. MacBadger is a Scottish badger that takes over Toad's finances when Toad runs into money trouble. Toad's horse Cyril is a foolish character, who dons a cockney accent and demeanor. The story follows the life of Toad, who cannot sustain from manias. He has to take part in all the new things. His newest is riding in his carriage with Cyril, who sing the well known song, "Merrily on our Way to Nowhere in Particular." MacBadger tells Moley and Ratty to come quick and try and shake Toad from this new mania. They are unsuccessful in this, and are further stymied when Toad sees an automobile. They attempt to keep him in Toad Hall to keep him from buying a motor car, but he sneaks out and apparently steals a car and is caught. While on trial, he claims that he did not steal the car, but sold Toad Hall for it fair and square. Mr. Winkie, who had been the witness when Toad had sold the manor to a group of weasels, declared that instead Mr. Toad had tried to sell him a stolen car. Toad is locked up.

Mr. Toad swears that he is done with manias and decides to turn over a new leaf. This all changes when Cyril comes to his rescue, disguised as his grandmother, and helps him escape. Toad makes his way to Moley, MacBadger and Ratty. MacBadger reveals that the weasels and Mr. Winkie have taken over Toad Hall and saw the deed in Mr. Winkie's possession. The trio relents at not believing Toad and they go to steal the deed to the house back. They are successful in getting the deed back and Toad's name is cleared. His friends take comfort in knowing that Toad is a changed person and he won't be wrapped up in manias anymore. This comfort leaves them when they see Toad and Cyril flying around in a biplane.

This is a great segment, filled with fun characters such as Moley, Toad, and my personal favorite, Cyril. Seriously, he is ridiculous. Moley and Ratty make an appearance as the charity men in Disney's Christmas Carol. Mr. Toad makes a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the weasels in the movie are modeled after the ones in The Wind in the Willows. Mr. Toad can also be seen at Disneyland, having his own ride, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. This used to be a ride in Disney World, but was replaced a few years ago by a Winnie the Pooh ride. It's too bad, I really liked that ride. The statue of Mr. Toad that adorned the entrance to the ride can now be found on top of one of the gravestones in the pet cemetery outside the Haunted Mansion.

The original Wind in the Willows has a bit of a different story. Like stated before, in the original version, Toad steals a car and later escapes from jail, unlike in the Disney version. Another big difference is his horse does not talk and thus is not used as comic relief. Dang! In the original story, Moley and Ratty go to visit Toad, who has gotten over his obsession with boats and now loves riding in his horse-drawn carriage. While giving Ratty and Moley a ride on his carriage, they are passed by a motor car. Thus starts Toad's obsession with cars. Moley decides to visit Badger deep in the Wild Wood and seek his help. In the original, Badger is not Scottish, and thus does not have a comical accent. Unfortunately Moley goes to seek Badger during the winter and gets lost while trying to find his house. Ratty goes to find Moley, but also becomes lost. They find each other and eventually arrive at Badger's door. They tell him of Toad's problems: he has crashed six motor cars and been hospitalized three times. They wait until Spring comes and all go to Toad Hall to confront Toad. They cannot get him to stop his obsession so they put him under house arrest. He escapes and steals a car, then gets caught and thrown in jail.

Ratty then goes to visit his old friend Otter, whose son, he finds out, is missing. Ratty and Moley set out to find him and call on the god Pan to help them. Pan leads them to the missing child, then wipes their memory of meeting him due to the fact that they would remember it and think everything else sucked in comparison. I wish I could do that to people. They won't meet anyone cooler than me! In jail, Toad gains the sympathy of the Jailor's daughter who helps him escape. Toad makes his way back to Ratty's house and finds out that his manor has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets. I don't know what a stoat is, but I'm sure it's some sort of varmint. Toad is saddened by this but is happy to just have his four friends. The friends declare that they will get the manor back and go through a secret entrance to the manor and drive the intruders out. Toad changes his ways and they all remain friends til the end of their days.

It's funny because this ending is happier than the Disney one. Usually it's the Disney version that is all glossed over and made happier. Nope! Disney wanted Toad to remain a obsessive fool. Disney later would attach their name to another Wind in the Willows, though this one was live action, and was directed by Terry Jones. It starred John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, all former members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. I have seen parts of this version and it's quite entertaining, especially if you are a Monty Python fan. Next post is on the second half of the film, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

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