Mole's underground home is destroyed when the meadow above is bulldozed by the Weasels. Mr Toad, had sold the land to finance his latest fad: caravanning. Mole meets the Water Rat. Seeing Mole's distress, Rat takes Mole to see Toad. Toad encourages them to join them in his newly bought horse-drawn caravan. A speeding motor car frightens the horse, tipping the caravan over. Toad instantly discards the cart and becomes obsessed with motoring. He is a reckless driver and funds his cars with loans from the Weasels. Their volatile Chief tries to persuade him to sell Toad Hall.
After a crazy drive into the Wild Wood and destroying a seventh motor car, all Toad, Rat, and Mole are lost in the inhospitable lair of the Weasels. The Weasels attempt to coerce Mole into stopping his friends from interfering with their plans. Toad also runs into the Weasels. The three end up in Mr Badger's underground abode. Badger, a close friend of Toad's late father feels responsible for Toad's inheritance, decides to end Toad's obsession with motor cars. However, Toad refuses to listen to Badger and is ultimately arrested for stealing and crashing a motor-car outside a pub. During his trial, Toad's defence lawyer is no help at all. Furthermore, the Weasels are dominating the public box. The Chief Weasel poses as one of the rabbits in the Jury and coerces the terrified creatures to give a guilty verdict. After Toad insults the Court and makes a botched escape attempt, the enraged Judge gives him a hundred-year sentence in a castle dungeon.
Back in Toad Hall, Rat and Mole are evicted by the Weasels, who have annexed Toad Hall for themselves. Rat and Mole tunnel under the castle to free Toad, but he is helped by the sympathetic Jailer's daughter and her reluctant Tea Lady Aunt. Toad escapes, disguised as the latter. Having forgotten Toad's wallet in his cell, Toad, Rat, and Mole board a train. The police however, have stowed away on the carriages, demand the train be stopped. Toad confesses the truth and begs the driver to help him evade his captors. If only to protect his train, the driver agrees to help. He tosses coal at the police, but gets caught in a mail catcher. Toad takes control of the train and is separated. He eventually crashes the engine, though he miraculously survives. Toad sets off again but is caught again by the Weasels.
The full extent of their twisted plans are revealed: they have built a dog-food factory over the remains of Mole's house and are planning to blow up Toad Hall and build a slaughterhouse in its place, with which they will turn all of the peaceful Riverbankers into dog food. They have also damaged the area near to Badger's home, which provokes him into taking decisive action against them. Badger and Rat attempt to infiltrate Toad Hall disguised as weasels, but are captured. Along with Toad, they are placed over the factory's mincing machine. The Chief, Clarence and Geoffrey return to Toad Hall to prepare the victory celebration, leaving St. John in charge of the machine. Mole, who has broken into the factory, disables the machine allowing Toad, Badger and Rat to escape.
In a premature sense of victory, the Clarence and Geoffrey attempt to blow up their Chief using a birthday cake. Clarence and Geoffrey begin fight each other for leadership, with the other Weasels drunkenly taking sides. This distraction allows the protagonists to stage a raid on the house, leaving all of the weasels incapacitated in the ensuing fight. However, the Chief has survived. Toad attempts to stop him from reaching the factory, which contains the detonator to blow up Toad Hall, to no avail. Unbeknownst to both of them, the explosives are actually in the factory (Rat had switched the labels on the explosive's containers earlier, leading the Weasels to believe the explosives were actually bone supplies for the factory), and as such the Chief blows up himself along with the factory, leaving Toad Hall intact and Toad's friends safe and well.
Afterwards, Toad makes a public speech swearing off motor cars and promising to be wiser and less prideful in the future. Mole's home has been repaired and he can go back to it. However, Toad is seen secretly talking to an airplane salesman, which shows that he has only moved on to a new craze. Toad flies over the crowd in the plane, causing mass hysteria and Badger swears never to help Toad again. During the end credits, Toad flies across the country and eventually over the sea.Steve Coogan as MoleEric Idle as RatTerry Jones as Mr ToadNicol Williamson as Mr BadgerMichael Palin as The SunAntony Sher as The Chief WeaselRichard James as Geoffrey Weasel and Mole's ClockKeith-Lee Castle as Clarence WeaselRobert Bathurst as St John WeaselNigel Planer as The Car SalesmanJohn Boswall as the Elderly GentlemanStephen Fry as The JudgeRoger Ashton-Griffiths as The Prosecution CounselJohn Cleese as Mr Toad's LawyerJulia Sawalha as The Jailer's DaughterVictoria Wood as The Tea LadyDon Henderson as The SentryRichard Ridings as The GuardBernard Hill as The Engine DriverNick Gillard as a stunt double"Messing About On The River" (Tony Hatch) – sung at the beginning by Rat, as he and Mole set out for a picnic on the river"Secret of Survival" – sung by the Weasels, explaining that they're only out for themselves"Mr Toad" – sung by Toad, with lyrics taken directly from the novel, split into three sections (one covering his escape from Toad Hall, one during his trial and one after the train crash)"Friends Is What We Is" – sung by Toad, Badger, Mole and Rat, as they drive the Weasels out of Toad Hall and during the party at the end"Miracle of Friends" – the song played during the end credits
The Wind in the Willows was produced by Allied Filmmakers in the UK and was then distributed by Columbia Pictures (1997 /USA), Columbia TriStar, Pathé and Walt Disney Home Video (2004 /USA). Terry Jones (who plays Mr Toad), one of the legendary Monty Python cast, teamed up with some of the remaining Pythons to bring the classic tale up to date for another generation to enjoy. Eric Idle as Rat, plays a major role, but John Cleese and Michael Palin have only small roles. John Cleese plays Toad's inept defence lawyer, and Michael Palin plays a sardonic talking Sun, who occasionally chastises Toad for his reckless behaviour, and briefly speaks to Ratty and Mole. Terry Gilliam was asked to voice "The River", but busy filming schedules with 12 Monkeys kept him from joining the cast. "The River" only has one instance of dialogue in the entire film- he is shown with a mouth and sings a couple of lines of the first song.
Filming and locationsThe filming was done mostly during sunset, and the colours were then readjusted.Filming for the railway scenes were shot on the Bluebell Railway, disguised as part of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (the Bluebell is home to a number of SE&CR locomotives, and as part of the old London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, the neighbouring railway to the SE&CR the disguise was not difficult to complete effectively). This is the first film to use the SE&CR for the Wind in the Willows - the railway in most adaptations of the story is the Great Western Railway (although the book itself does not specify this).The scenes of the outside of Toad Hall were shot at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk.The external scenes of the Gaol are Dover Castle in Kent.The Old School, now the post office in Chiddingstone features as the Welcome Inn where Toad dines before stealing and crashing a motorcar.
When the film first appeared in the U.S. under its original title, it got pushed aside due to distributors' problems and very little promotional material was published. Takings in the UK had been low because the film had largely been shown only in the afternoon. Subsequently, New York papers wondered why such a wonderful children's film was dumped by distributors. The New York Times published a very positive review by Lawrence Van Gelder. Yet, to add to the confusion, Walt Disney Home Video, in their video release changed its name to Mr Toad's Wild Ride, to tie into their theme park ride (the Walt Disney World version of which closed in 1998).
At the time of the film's US release Terry Jones, who was working on a documentary in New York, was told by telephone that the film was being shown in a cinema on Times Square. Jones rushed down to the square only to discover that the film was showing at "one of those seedy little porno theatres."
In the UK, the film sub-totalled £1.303 million and $72,844 in the U.S.
The film holds a 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and holds three stars out of five on the film critic website AllMovie.com. Film critic Mike Hertenstein wrote a positive critical review of the film.
The films won the Best of the Fest award at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in 1998 and the WisKid Award at the Wisconsin International Children's Film Festival in 2000.