Wind in the Willows

Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave.

A superb cast of British thesps, which includes Vanessa Redgrave and Michael Gambon, lend their finely-tuned voices to The Wind in the Willows, a solid but unexciting animated feature based on Kenneth Grahame's children classic. A modest, somehow painterly look makes this film a bit old-fashioned by standards of Disney's animation which is more vibrant and innovative. Still, as the market for such fare has expanded, pic should enjoy a better reception on video after its limited theatrical release.

Surprisingly, Grahame's l908 enchanting tale, which has been read by millions worldwide, has never been made into a big-screen entertainment. Film begins with a peaceful boat ride along a river, with Redgrave narrating the tale to her three children. A smooth transition to the animated Riverbank introduces its central creatures. Impetuous and naive, Mole (Alan Bennett), is eager for new experiences, which usually leads him foolhardy towards danger and calamity. His companion Rat (Michael Palin) is intensely practical and well-versed in the ways of the River, but he's also a romantic dreamer.

These two are contrasted with the huge, awesome Badger (Gambon), the scourge of rascals in the wild woods, and the recklessly flamboyant, outrageously irresponsible Toad (Rik Mayall). But true to Grahame's enduring masterpiece, the most powerful and memorable character is the River itself, a mythical presence which is, as the narrator says, “always changing, always the same.”

The quartet of actors use their rich theatrical voices to a good dramatic effect, and Redgrave's narration adds the right touch to a movie that is for the most part engaging. But the film doesn't have enough songs, a crucial ingredient that would have made its tedious parts more enjoyable.

John Coates, who produced the acclaimed animated feature The World of Peter Rabbit & Friends, and helmer Dave Unwin have created a beautiful film with nice production values. However, lacking visual flair and genuine vigor might disappoint children, the prime target for such fare, who're used to Disney's more inventive and exhilarating animation style.