Watership Down (1978)

Posted by on Dec 16, 2011 in Scary | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Obvious connections to Catholicism and intense gore involving animated rabbits. It’s jarring. Seriously.

I never saw Watership Down when I was young. I just discovered it a few years ago. But had I, I imagine it would have been a memorable experience, to say the least. The film is an ultimately bleak examination of all the fear and suffering of life, as seen from a group of cartoon rabbits.

Based on Richard Adams’ novel, Watership2Watership Down follows a warren of rabbits as they seek a new home free of humans and tyranny. One evening, Fiver (Richard Briers), a gifted young rabbit, dreams a vision of the warren’s destruction at the hand of humans. Together with the help of his brother Hazel (John Hurt), he evacuates a small group of rabbits against the wishes of the community’s military leaders. What ensues is a perilous journey to a new home, called Watership Down, where they eventually engage in a war with a neighboring police state. With a strange and exciting watercolor animation style, this film takes viewers on a journey entirely from the eyes of the rabbits, which is what makes the images and action so powerful and frightening.

Watership3Right from the Watership Down‘s opening, an expositional sequence about animal creationism, it’s clear the film is about spirituality and death. As this prologue explains, Frith made the world (the stars, Earth, etc.) and all the animals. Back then, El-Ahrairah was the prince of rabbits and his people multiplied uncontrollably, so much so that Frith changed all of the animals to have different characteristics and created predators with an inherent desire to kill El-Ahrairah’s people.

As the last lines state, “All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you – digger, listener, runner, prince with a swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people will never be destroyed.” This dogma gives the rabbits spirit and determination, but also instills a constant fear. It’s a strange balance of hope and fear that peaks with a music video of sorts to Art Garfunkel’s song Bright Eyes. Despite its obvious connections to religion, it’s not a film for Sunday school students. It’s as critical of religion as it is embracing, perhaps the latter a bit more so, but nothing to shy away from merely because of the theme.

The film, which features the voices of Denholm Elliot and Zero Mostel, is nearly impossible to describe; you have to see and feel the images it presents. This is the exact opposite of a cuddly Disney film about animals and, since we’ve subconsciously expected those images from an animated film, Watership Down comes as a completely original and shockingly frightening film that I’d recommend to anyone. Well maybe not anyone. I don’t want to be responsible for the permanent scarring of your kids. That’s your job.

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