UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Live Action Disney Films (1980-Present) | Search UltimateDisney.com

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride DVD Review

Click to buy Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on DVD from Amazon.com Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (a.k.a. The Wind in the Willows)

U.K. Theatrical Release: October 18, 1996 / U.S. Theatrical Release: October 31, 1997 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Terry Jones

Cast: Steve Coogan (Mole), Eric Idle (Rat), Terry Jones (Mr. Toad), Antony Sher (Chief Weasel), Nicol Williamson (Badger), John Cleese (Mr. Toad's Lawyer), Stephen Fry (The Judge), Bernard Hill (The Engine Driver), Michael Palin (The Sun), Nigel Planer (The Car Salesman), Julia Sawalha (The Jailer's Daughter), Victoria Wood (The Tea Lady), Robert Bathurst (St. John Weasel), Don Henderson (The Sentry), Keith-Lee Castle (Clarence Weasel), Richard James (Geoffrey Weasel, Mole's Clock)

Songs: "Messing About on the River", "Toad's Song", "Weasels' Song", "Riverbankers' Song", "Miracle of Friends"

1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital Stereo (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99; White Keepcase

Buy from Amazon.com

The movie Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is not exactly, as the back of the DVD case puts it, "a classic Disney tale come to life." Nor, despite the title, was it spawned by the attraction that has dazzled Disneyland guests since the Anaheim park's opening day. This British film is not even affiliated with the stop-motion TV series that found a home on the Disney Channel in the 1980s. If you haven't already figured it out, the only thing this late-1990s production has in common with all the aforementioned works is the source text: Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows.

When this Terry Jones-helmed adaptation reached theaters -- the fall of 1996 in its homeland, the following year elsewhere -- it did so under Grahame's original title. In the United States, The Wind in the Willows was treated to a practically non-existent promotional budget and received very limited theatrical release a full year after bowing in UK cinemas.

There was a good reason for the unfortunately minimal exposure and it had nothing to do with the merits of the film, which were generally praised by critics. Sony's Columbia Pictures had obtained theatrical distribution rights only as the result of a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company. Disney, nevertheless, retained the home video rights.
Thus, Columbia decided not to treat the film to a standard advertising budget, as such a push would benefit Disney when the movie left theaters. In other words, The Wind in the Willows was deliberately buried, playing on a total of just seven screens in New York and Los Angeles for a single week. There's little record of an American theatrical release at all; Internet searches turn up nothing even at the most thorough box office tracking sites and certainly there is no official one-sheet poster to be found (hence, the heading above is what's normally given to a direct-to-video or made-for-TV movie).

At this point, the most interesting turn this review could take would be for me to deem Wind in the Willows -- or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, as Disney retitled the film for its February 1998 video debut -- an epic masterpiece so incredibly unworthy of such a cruel arbitrated fate. That is not exactly the case, but the movie is certainly more winning and from a more esteemed troupe than one would expect of something so unceremoniously dumped in video stores.

The writer and director of the piece, Terry Jones also plays Mr. Toad with green make-up and an unflattering physique. Steve Coogan and Eric Idle play Mole and Rat, respectively, the long-tested, good-natured pals of the reckless Toad.

This adaptation of Grahame's celebrated tale would appear to be the baby of Terry Jones, one of the founding members of the British comedy institution that is Monty Python. Jones wrote the screenplay, stars as Mr. Toad, was one of four songwriters, and directed the whole thing. He is joined in the cast by fellow Python writer-actor Eric Idle (familiar to Epcot parkgoers as Dr. Nigel Channing of the Imagination Institute) as Rat and Steve Coogan (Disney/Walden's Around the World in 80 Days and more memorably, BBC icon Alan Partridge) as Mole.

Though it's not really clear from the US video cover and the Disney name might lead some to assume animation, this particular Wind in the Willows is, in fact, a live action production. Fear not that this means full-body suits or liberal use of CGI, for the movie instead aspires to subtlety in decorating its actors as the highly anthropomorphized animal characters they're playing. Toad appears with portly proportions and faint green skin, Rat's whiskers emanate from a normal moustache while his long tail is easily forgotten, and Mole is a name which makes sense more in behavior than appearance.

As you're probably familiar with the story, I'll be succinct in recounting it here. Mr. Toad suffers from manias and has been frivolously spending the fortunes he has inherited from his late father. Toad's extreme, short-lived passions and his disregard for common sense have his faithful friends Rat and Mole tired of the conscientious guardian roles they regularly must assume. The tough-talking Badger (Nicol Williamson) takes even greater efforts to knock sense into Toad's head, alas to no avail. With Mole's house wrecked due to Toad's short-sightedness, the plump amphibian shifts his current fad from caravans to cars. This helps the villains of the story -- unscrupulous red-headed weasels -- concoct a plan that will place Toad in prison and them in possession of Toad Hall, his stately manor.

With a feature-length runtime, Jones's filming is allowed opportunity to flesh out certain things merely hinted at in the adaptation you're likely most familiar with, the 30-minute featurette that makes up the first half of Disney's 1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. There is room for several suspenseful action sequences and a fabricated dog food factory subplot. There is also enough time to develop Rat, Mole, and Badger, each given about as much to do as the now-title character, who by comparison seems fairly one-dimensional. As a quasi-protagonist, the hammy Jones's Mr. Toad is not the most likable personality, which makes it harder to overlook his faults and to sympathize with his good-natured, put-out pals.

Mr. Toad goes for what you might say is a wild ride. The Chief Weasel (Antony Sher) is given some amusing banter with one of his more inept comrades (Robert Bathurst).

While not always pitch-perfect, at least the supporting characters are easier to cheer on. As the river-and-picnic-loving Rat, Idle is especially endearing.
As too often seems to be the case in movies, Coogan's comic genius gets hidden under his somehow straightforward role, as Mole's squirrelly eccentricities surface in a goofy voice and mousy mannerisms. As the no-nonsense Badger, Williamson delivers the appropriate air of authority. Two other Monty Python members also make noteworthy appearances: John Cleese as Toad's unsupportive attorney and Michael Palin as the talking face of the sun.

Though the film doesn't hit all its marks, it never misses as broadly or hits as brilliantly as some British comedy manages to do. This results in it being a semi-satisfying treatment of an unquestionably valuable piece of literature. It's a bit cartoonish, a bit formulaic, but also enough fun to make the shortcomings easy to overlook. The short songs that are sporadically sprinkled throughout are a mixed bag. A few, like the weasels' early, psychedelic harassment of Mole and the closing quartet act, are both sufficiently realized and cleverly written. Others offer an equal mix of mild detour and diversion.

While the movie's PG rating seems justified, the MPAA's official reasoning -- "For Fanciful Villainy and Gunplay" -- is among its most amusing. Indeed, the movie should be fine for most kids, though it is not as youth-tailored as many American films. That seems appropriate for a novel that has delighted children and adults alike for nearly a century. In truth, it seems as if Terry Jones and company made this movie not with a specific audience or age in mind, but rather as a bit of fun in a lively English tradition.

Between the '40s cartoon, the Disney Channel-aired Cosgrove Hall series of the '80s, and this legally-plagued release last decade, you might think that Disney has had its fill with this Kenneth Grahame novel. But, in 2002, Disney spent about half a million dollars to buy the rights to a new Wind in the Willows adaptation penned by two USC film school graduates and visualized by their artist partner. In February 2003, the studio signed Guillermo del Toro to write and direct the live action project, planned as a big budget family-friendly release in which CGI would enable the talking animals. Somewhere in the four years since, del Toro left the project (admitting his submitted treatment was probably considered too "weird") and it seems to have fallen off Disney's radar. Meanwhile, Mexican director del Toro has gone on to receive an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay to his recent R-rated fairy tale Pan's Labyrinth.

John Cleese delivers a cameo as Mr. Toad's disapproving lawyer. Toad on the witness stand: "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."


When Mr. Toad's Wild Ride came to DVD, early in 2004, Buena Vista Home Entertainment was in the midst of cold streak when it came to live-action, Disney-branded movies. That is not to say that they weren't releasing catalog titles (this is the type of cold streak currently being experienced), but that they were releasing many of them in cropped fullscreen transfers. Mr. Toad is lucky enough to make it out in its original theatrical aspect ratio, 1.85:1 widescreen.
Unfortunately, though, that didn't mean it was given the enhancement for 16x9 screens that has long been a no-brainer for most studios.

In spite of the noticeable and needless waste of resolution that comes from non-anamorphic widescreen treatment, the film doesn't look so bad, at least not by DVD standards. As a movie, the film looks very dark and that is not something that feels aesthetically or thematically correct. You can almost always make out what's going on in every scene, but it's the type of movie that requires a dark room or overcast day for a really good first viewing.

The case boasts "Dolby Digital Surround Sound", but there's no surround to be found. Instead, you just get two-channel stereo, which seems rather scant on a late-'90s film. In a number of instances, the film seems like it would benefit from atmospheric effects or some breathing room bestowed upon the songs and John Du Prez's score. Alas, all sound is relegated to the front speakers, unless you opt for some artificial surround effect. The sound mix just doesn't seem to be the best either, as dynamics tend to be inconsistent and not even in a sensible way. A scene of normal-volume dialogue gives way to a musical number, in which the levels drop for no apparent reason. All parts of the world appear to have gotten this same Dolby Stereo track, but while most viewers will consider it fine, it definitely seems lacking for its origins.

This cracking four-shot would be even more lovely if 30% of the resolution didn't have to go to black bars. The extremely cheesy Main Menu provides very few options.


There are no bonus features at all. The absence is unsurprising due to the legal woes which tainted the film's US theatrical release. By comparison, Region 2 distributors Pathι saw fit to include an audio commentary by Terry Jones, a 25-minute making-of featurette, storyboard and costume design featurettes, four sing-along songs, and the movie's original theatrical trailer, not to mention anamorphic enhancement for the film.

Buena Vista's disc does, however, open with that ubiquitous 85-second promo for recent live action Disney films, promoting fare -- like Remember the Titans, Snow Dogs, The Lizzie McGuire Movie and The Princess Diaries -- that no longer so recent and certainly has little (besides a distributor) in common with the featured film. There are also a grand total of three menus and they appear to have been designed -- by someone who has been using computer photo-editing programs for about 3 weeks -- in about 3 minutes. In other words, they're basic and rather lame, with cheesy still artwork accompanied by a couple of instrumental riffs. Finally, a double-sided insert inside the case (authoritatively dubbed a DVD Guide) lists the 16 scene selections and recommends three rather unrelated Disney flicks.

Toad waddles off cheerfully in the company of an English snowman. The four leads of the film -- Rat (Eric Idle), Toad (Terry Jones), Badger (Nicol Williamson), and Mole (Steve Coogan) -- give an impromptu musical number.


Whether you call it Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or The Wind in the Willows, Terry Jones's 1996 filming of Kenneth Grahame's appealing novel is an unextraordinary but passable and spirited adaptation. It may not be the most even-handed retelling, but it's often funny and, when not hilarious, it's diverting enough in the quirky tradition of British comedy. It's unfortunate that the movie's numerous strengths weren't enough to get it attention in America, but the brunt of the blame doesn't appear to lie with the Mouse, even if the film appears to be Disney-branded in the US indefinitely henceforth.

The movie deserves at least a rental, especially for anyone fond of the original book, Disney's cartoon adaptation, or British comedy in general. But Disney's Region 1 DVD is pretty pitiful and not even cheap enough to justify a bargain buy. If you're a fan of the movie and would like to purchase it, the Region 2 and Region 4 DVDs are a lot more attractive than this. If you have multi-region capability, importing from abroad appears to be the way to go, unless you're already in a R2 or R4 territory, that is.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy The Wind in the Willows on Region 2 DVD from Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Wind in the Willows Region 2 DVD from Amazon.co.uk

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, plus commentary, making-of featurette,
storyboard and costume features, 4 sing-alongs, and the trailer

The Book: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrations by E.H. Shepard

Related Reviews:
The Wind in the Willows: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) • Timeless Tales, Volume Two
From Author Kenneth Grahame, The Reluctant Dragon: It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4 • Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio
Around the World in 80 Days • Valiant • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy • The Phoenix & The Carpet
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition • The Wild
James and the Giant Peach • Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition • Peter Pan: Special Edition
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: 25th Anniversary Edition • Return to Oz • Goal! The Dream Begins
Kinky Boots • Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book • The Muppet Treasure Island
Shall We Dance? (1997) • Jungle 2 Jungle • The Great Muppet Caper • Jack

Works Consulted:
Stack, Peter. 'Wind' Has Classic Charm: Grahame's thoughtful fable deserves wider audience. San Francisco Chronicle. 9 Jan 1998.
Dunkley, Cathy. Del Toro bullish on Disney 'Wind'. Variety. 27 Feb 2003.
del Toro, Guillermo "GDT". :D Q&A and a lil' sumptin' else... PT 1. Hellboy Message Boards. 15 Nov 2003.

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Live Action Disney Films (1980-Present) | Search UltimateDisney.com

Reviewed February 5, 2007 - LB