Wednesday 6 February 2008

The Python Gang Goes Wild with The Wind in the Willows

A Comparison between "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" and Kenneth Grahame's book The Wind In The Willows

When all or part of the Monty Python gang gets together they never do anything half way. This doing things in excess, is extremely true of their adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's, The Wind in the Willows. To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein, "Moderation is for monks, to enjoy life take big bites, everything in excess." That is how Mr. Toad lives in both film and book, it is also how the Python gang adapted this movie.
The central issues in both the movie and the book are fun, and different characters' ways of pursing it. Friendship is also a central issue in both stories. The gang--Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger--explore what it means to be good friends and what it means to fail as a friend. Another key theme is folly, as seen through Mr. Toad's complete disregard for self, others, environment or even society as a whole. Personal growth seen in both the film and book; Mole must cross through transformative states to become fully "Mole". In both plots, Toad, a liminal animal, is the tool that leads to Mole's growth. Mole is the unlikely hero in both
stories. To a lesser extent Rat is a hero, but Rat and Badger's primary role is as special educators to Mole, and self-appointed protectors of Toad and the river bank community at large.
In both stories, the plots seem similar, at least in regards to which episodes of the
book the film covers. In both versions, the animals appear to be anthropomorphic, that is humans dressed up in fuzzy, furry outfits. Neither attempts to explain how the animal world and the human world interact or the extent of that interaction. Examples of this are cars, court, jail, and railways.

In my opinion, the primary difference in plot is the focus. In the book, the focus is on Mole and his development as a being, and to a lesser extent Toad's development. In the book, Toad's trials and folly are a tool for Mole's growth. The movie focuses more on Toad and his escapades, but the growth that is illustrated in Toad's character in the book is not present in the movie. In fact, the movie ends with Toad's antics being the w
orst yet. The movie does capture much of the spirit of the book.

The book is a political satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Yet the movie makes that aspect so much more prevalent to the viewer. The primary focus is on the Nazi regime, and Neo Nazi movements. This tieing of the Weasels to the evil element is acceptable to the viewer because of our perception of the creature. If this association had been attempted with an other animal such as a rabbit, it would have been a great deal harder to believe. This theme is over exaggerated in the movie. The key example of this is the Chief Weasel, who looks like Adolf Hitter with a thin moustache and thinning combed-over hair. All the other weasels are clones and can not be told apart. They all wear the same clothes, most often long heavy trench coats, with red armbands with a white circle, a large black "W" in the circle, and black trim. Also mock ups of Nazi banners when they take over Toad hall, that go from floor to ceiling in similar pattern to armbands. There is also an assassination attempt on the Head Weasel by two of his underlings, who attempt to bomb their leader and this attempt is similar to the real-life attempt made on Hitler. The play on political themes is more easily seen in the film.

The theme of friendship is stronger and much better developed in the book then in the film. Rat, Badger and Toad know each other at the beginning of the book. In the movie Mole already knows them, whereas in the book, he meets Rat on the riverbank after a long journey away from home. Both stories are about friends and the length to which friends will go for each other. The book covers the growth of the friendship between Mole and Rat, and then Badger much better than the mov
ie. As well the role of Rat and Badger as both friend and "special educators" to Mole, is much more evident in the book. As seen by Badgers' words to Mole in "Like a summer tempest came his tears", when he says : "Mole, I perceive you have more sense in your little finger than some other animals have in the whole of their fat bodies. You have managed excellently, and I begin to have great hopes for you. Good mole! Clever Mole!" (P.205) Yet no one ever has praise for Toad, except Toad, through his self praising little songs.

The theme of fun versus folly, in the book and movie, Rat teaches Mole to have good clean fun, and Badger, when he is introduced, helps them both in this area. Toad, on the other hand, is a spoiled rich boy, who knows only folly, and that to the extreme, and never any lasting enjoyment. Toad goes through many phases of interest (boating, travelling wagon, cars ) but then quickly passes on to something else. Usually, these fancies of Toads', appear to get bigger, brighter and flashier. In t
he book this character flaw seems resolved, and the result is a changed Toad. This however, is not the case in the movie, where Toad does not appear to be reformed. As the movie ends with Toad on an even worse attachment to a new 'toy', the aeroplane.
A small aside remark made in both film and book that is a common motif in children's literature, and especially in the genre of animal literature. In the underground tunnels Badger says: "... there was a city a city of people, you know. Here where we are standing ... people come, they stay for a while, they flourish, they build and they go. It's their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I've been told, long before that same
city ever came to be. And there are badgers here again ..."(p.125) The idea of man's impermanence especially against nature is often seen in literature. In the Jungle Books you have examples of this in the Cold Lairs, in the story "Kaa's Hunting", and in the total destruction of a village in "Letting the Jungle In". This concept of animals having memory before and after man's involvement or mans staying in an area is also seen in C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian where a badger says, "we badgers have long memories..." This impermanence of man and what we build is a symbol to us all of Thanatology. This theme of ends, whether of man, stages of man, or cities is a key to opening questions. Although, just a small part of both film and book, this theme leads the reader and causes both young or old to question both Thanatology and Sexology. That is to questions about, death, where we come from, and where we are going. Who are we and why are we here.

I believe the movie is a good adaptation of the book. But like Toad's character both book and film are about extremes in character temperament. So I think the film is true to the spirit of the book.


Graham, Kenneth The Wind in the Willows
Bantan Classic, Toronto, 1982

Movie "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride"
Disney 1996

(First written for ENGL208C Spring 1999.)

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