Watership Down  - Brian
aka. Richard Adams's Watership Down
Director: Martin Rosen
My fascination with the darker aspects of animated features has led me to review Watership Down
. Based on the book of the same name by Richard Adams, Watership Down
centers around a group of rabbits who must embark on a perilous exodus or risk being slaughtered by, you guessed it, humans.
Unlike The Plague Dogs
, Watership Down
focuses more on an epic adventure as opposed to a film meant to raise awareness. It’s no secret that rabbits are often viewed in our society as “cute and cuddly,” and their use in a narrative with such a bleak undertone makes the story all the more intense. In a way, Richard Adams uses these preconceived notions that have been imprinted in our minds and exploits them to create very real and potent emotional reactions. If you were to replace all the rabbits in Watership Down
with humans and change the story to fit that premise, I don’t think you could elicit the same kind of reaction as you would with a story about rabbits. This is where the beauty of the story lies.
The story of Watership Down
manages to be incredibly imaginative, but commonplace enough to where it doesn’t become so farfetched that it alienates the viewer. Sure, the rabbits can talk and at least one rabbit in the group, Fiver
, is a psychic, but they still look like ordinary rabbits, move like ordinary rabbits, and fight like ordinary rabbits (should the need arise). They still have the same occupational hazards that come standard with being prey animals, and seemingly mundane activities (like crossing the street) become epic ordeals requiring planning and teamwork. It’s also interesting to note that a tremendous amount of work went into fleshing out the Lapine culture of the rabbits. Everything from religion to social status is touched upon in the film. While not deeply explored, the aspects of Lapine culture that we do see create an atmosphere that feels established and enduring.
From the moment we learn of Fiver
’s haunting premonition of his home’s eventual destruction, the story is tainted with a foreboding and hopeless sense of dread. After all, these are rabbits. What can they do? As the story progresses, we see the numerous dangers, some natural and some man-made, that face our long-eared friends. A seemingly peaceful warren is paradise lost, littered with nooses that nearly claim their lives. Rival rabbit tribes hunt and hound our protagonists at every turn. However, it ultimately comes down to how our heroes overcome these obstacles that defines and endears them to us. Stalwart and stoic warriors evolve into paternal and protective guardians, cowards rise up as heroes, and at least one rascally character (Hazel
) assumes the position as a truly capable and responsible leader.
In the end, Watership Down
succeeds in a number of areas. The animation is decent considering the time it was made. Characters are fluid and expressive, and the fight scenes and the violence are made especially visceral thanks to sound design. Combined with a story about an epic journey in your own backyard, Watership Down
is both visually and thematically stunning. This is definitely one adventure you won’t want to miss.