Watership Down

Dir: Martin Rosen, 1978. Starring: J. Hurt, R. Briers, M. G. Cox, S. Cadell, H. Andrews, Z. Mostel. Children's.
Watership Down

Watership Down is a beautifully animated film, based on the novel of the same name, written by Richard Adams. It tells the story of a group of rabbits who, much like humans, has their own religion, language, and culture. It evokes a classic English gothic world of green meadows, hallucination, and the grim, shadowy, underbelly of human nature...errm, I mean, rabbit-nature.

The story begins when Fiver, a young rabbit with prophetic abilities, has a vision of the destruction of the peaceful warren in which the rabbits all live. Fiver and his older brother, a rabbit named Hazel, make an attempt to persuade the other rabbits to leave to warren and run for safety, but the chief rabbit of their warren dismisses their ideas and sends them away. Fiver and Hazel, both firm in their belief in Fiver's prophetic abilities, decide to leave the warren on their own with a small group of other like-minded rabbits.

The group runs into various perils on their journey right from the start, and Violet, the only female rabbit in the group, is quickly snatched away by a flying hawk. The group continues to push on in a quest to find safety, all the while Fiver in a semi-trance-like state describes visions of a perfect haven for the rabbits, a place not too far off, a hill on the other side of a valley called Watership Down. After some more adventure, the rabbits settle into their new warren, but here a new problem arises:  there are no does in the warren and, what's more, the groups run into a corrupt, militarized warren of rabbits that has enslaved a large number of rabbits, including many females. The Watership Down rabbits decide to make an attempt to free their brothers and sisters from the evil Efrafa warren in what turns out to be an awesome battle between good and evil.

One particular aspect of this film that stands out is its elegance. The animation is so sophisticated for the time period - nearly all of the typical cartoonish zaniness is missing from the art, and in its place is sort of realist animation. The rabbits are all drawn to look like real rabbits and, aside from their mouth and arm gestures, they move and act just like real rabbits. The countryside is depicted in an almost impressionistic way - swathes of grass are represented by rough brushstrokes, underground labyrinths are done in psychedelic oranges and magentas, yet still retain their atmosphere of heavy darkness. The score too, is very dreamy - lush chords made up of cellos, woodwinds, and harps are a perfect compliment to this film. The voice actors are all top notch...This is a very well done film from top to bottom.

I remember first seeing Watership Down when I was much, much younger. Perhaps it was on cable or something, and my mother saw some cute cuddly animated bunnies on the TV screen and thought, "well look at this pastoral scene with cute bunnies! What a nice thing for my innocent child too watch!" and left me in front of the tube...I don't remember seeing the whole thing back then, as I'm almost sure the channel was changed once the reality of this cartoon came to life in harrowing, nightmare hallucinations, and bleeding, writhing dying bunnies, but it did make a huge impression on me back then, and it was long overdue for me to sit down and watch this amazing film.

Although I've said much about Watership Down's darkness (there is indeed a healthy dose of blood in this film), it should be remembered that the novel "Watership Down" is considered a classic of children's literature, and the DVD carries a mere PG rating (in the UK it's rated U, which means universal, suitable for everyone), and many people I know who saw this film saw it first as a child. Sure it has some violence, and even mild swearing (the phrase "piss off" is used) but really, it arguably pales in comparison to material that a child of say 8 or 9 years old is accustomed to nowadays, and it has a degree of beauty and a sense of moral integrity that seems to harken back to a simpler, perhaps more innocent time. I personally, as a parent, can't wait for my kid to be of age to digest this magical, magical film.

If you have a heart, watch Watership Down, you won't regret it.

Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 15, 2009 3:06pm
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