Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mr. Toad



Disney's version of Kenneth Grahame's book The Wind in the Willows is one of those few productions that I would label as a good film, but not a great one. First conceived as a full feature film, before being cut down to featurette length, the trouble the story guys had with getting a hold of the material is evident to me. The whimsical quality of the original book never made it to the screen.
(Many years later Winnie the Pooh succeeded more on that level).
You get to know Toad, Rat and Mole only to a point, perhaps this should have been a full length feature to allow for deeper character development.
That being said...I love watching the film , because there are many animated highlights. Milt Kahl's Angus McBadger, Frank's Toad animation and the trial sequence are just terrific. Well worth studying frame by frame.
The overall character designs are pretty nifty as well, with the exception of bartender Winkie, who looks like a stock character.

Here are early character suggestions by Ray Jacobs (?).




Great sketch by story artist Homer Brightman.



A comparative size sheet drawn by Frank Thomas.



And a clean up model sheet using poses from Frank's animation. Milt had something to do with the way hands, clothing and facial expressions are drawn.



What a beautiful sketch from the film's prologue. That's what I call great staging.



A Life Magazine article, published around the time of the film's 1949 release.






10 comments:

  1. I like Winkie. He reminds me of Stromboli.

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  2. Only a shame Otter and his son Portly didn't make the cut, though of course their involvement in the original book climaxed with one of two unusual chapters that tend to be the most talked about of the entire novel. The only noteworthy thing of the Disney adaptation is having been the first of it's kind at all I think, decades before others had followed on film and TV.

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  3. This issue pf "Life magazine was published November 21, 1949.

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  4. This issue pf "Life magazine was published November 21, 1949.

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  5. Those weasels are a pretty cool design, they're so skinny that they embody 'line of action'. I can see why they borrowed them for Roger Rabbit, although I'm not sure they work as well with the more complex costumes

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  6. "First conceived as a full feature film, before being cut down to featurette length, the trouble the story guys had with getting a hold of the material is evident to me. The whimsical quality of the original book never made it to the screen."

    If it's any consolation, none of the other three feature adaptations I've seen manage to do better than Disney, in that regard. Everything always seems to focus on Toad, and assumes the whole story is goofy farce.
    That said, I can't fully judge for myself, because this is probably the one adaptation I haven't seen!

    (It might be a case of 'this is the version I grew up with', but I think Cosgrove Hall's TV series nailed 'whimsical' the best, for various reasons)

    As ever, thanks for posting this art and article, Andreas. Always interesting.

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    1. One of the better ones I could suggest was from studio TVC in London (the same studio behind such classics as Yellow Submarine and The Snowman) that was an adequate adaption and it led to TVC adapting a 'official' sequel written by someone else called "The Willows in Winter".
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_in_the_Willows_(1995_film)
      http://www.toonhound.com/windin.htm
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP5_k8tSG2c

      Some years back, a blogger did a series of articles criticizing the different adaptations, both animated and live-action, to Wind In The Willows you can view here...
      http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2010/11/wind-in-willows-conclusions.html

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  7. Now that I think of it, Mr. Toad looks like Freddie in the cartoon feature Freddie as F.R.O.7 in character design. Nostalgic cartoon, but an underrated one

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  8. Have to admit, this film has grown on me over the years until now I'm quite fond of it. Toad is indeed a fabulous character, in the modern sense of the word. You're right that it is more manic than gentle, unlike the book (which I love), but still a fun, fun film.

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