A superb cast of British thesps, including 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’s classic. A modest, somewhat painterly look makes this entry a bit old-fashioned by current standards, but limited theatrical prospects should be followed by better results in video.
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 foolishly toward 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 1908 masterpiece , the most powerful and memorable character is the river itself, a mythical presence that is, as the narrator says, “always changing, always the same.”
The quartet of actors use their rich theatrical voices to 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 the tedious stretches 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. But the lack of visual flair and genuine vigor might disappoint the target audience of moppets, who are accustomed to Disney’s more inventive and exhilarating animation style. (Disney handled the Grahame characters in a 68-minute, 1949 “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”)