Watership Down (1978)
Directed by Martin Rosen & John Hubley
Based on Watership Down by Richard Adams
Starring: John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox, Roy Kinnear, Simon Cadell, Harry Andrews, Zero Mostel
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A group of rabbits flee their doomed warren and face many dangers to find and protect their new home.
This is my second Blind Spot movie of 2017 after watching & reviewing The Hustler in January. I’ve never read the Watership Down book by Richard Adams and have managed to avoid spoilers for years. I’d only ever heard that the movie is “sad” so I will of course avoid giving any major spoilers in this review.
I’m still not quite sure what to think of this film. I watched it over a month ago & it goes up in my estimation the more I think about it. It was very good & I liked it but know it’s one that would grow on me after multiple watches. I have to say that I wish I’d grown up with it as that would make me appreciate it in a different sort of way. I also very much want to read the book now as I think it would make more sense of the story (I was extremely tired the night I watched this. As usual). I want the kid to read more classics so I have a feeling she’ll be getting this book as a gift from mommy so we can read it together when she’s older. It’ll prepare her for the movie, which I wouldn’t allow her to watch yet. Yes, this film is indeed extremely violent for an animated “family” film. I’ll come back to that topic in a bit…
Watership Down is very different from modern-day animated films. I mean that in a good way, though. It has the soul & bravery that a lot of classic kids’ stories had in the 1970s but which have been sucked out of the sanitized & meaningless “Happy Meal toy seller” movies pumped out by Hollywood nowadays. To quote two bits of trivia at IMDB, Watership Down is “considered to be the most violent animated PG-rated film ever made.” Also, “The British Board of Film Classification is still receiving complaints about this film after it was made almost 40 years ago.”
It’s funny to think that, although I didn’t see this as a kid, I’d have probably seen it by the age of six or seven and my parents would’ve thought nothing of it whereas no one would let a kid that age watch this film now. I just find it amusing what people protect their kids from nowadays. They’ll shield them from an allegorical classic such as this but will think nothing of letting them have unmonitored Internet & social media access. They’ll think nothing of letting them do so many things that are far more psychologically damaging than watching Watership Down. Don’t worry – I’m not getting on my soapbox since, even though I know I’d have seen this by the time I was my kid’s age if I’d had the opportunity, there’s no WAY I’d let her watch this! Lol. 😉 Not yet. I’ll check out the book first as that seems like the better introduction but, to give a slight spoiler warning, this movie goes full-on “Bunny Road House“ at the end! I expected a polar bear to fall on someone. I expected Sam Elliott (stud) to show up & help guide the bunnies to safety. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice, little bunnies!
I often say “I’m now interested in reading the book” after watching a movie that I liked but I rarely do it as I don’t like doing it that way around (I try to always read the book before the movie adaptation if it’s something that interests me). I mean it this time, however. It strikes me as one that will go far deeper in the book as the rabbits have their entirely own culture, belief system, language, etc. The movie touches on this very well and I loved the look and animation style used at the start of the film to help explain their culture but would assume, as is usually the case, that the book will explain even more. The story being an allegory of many things, but mainly humanity in general, I’d like to read the book to more easily draw the parallels.
Finally, for those interested in the book or movie, I’ll say that it follows the classic Joseph Campbell “hero’s journey” sort of theme, which always makes for a great story. The epic journey and mythological themes also reminded me of just how much I loved The Warriors. Yes, that’s right! I did indeed just compare Watership Down to The Warriors & Road House. That’s a massive compliment because those movies are awesome. Okay – I’ve talked myself into it now: I really really liked Watership Down. It’s a fantastically epic allegorical journey worthy of its “classic” status. And Road House Bunny Warriors kick ass.
To end this review, I thought I better make mention of the book’s author (Richard Adams) and the voice our main character Hazel (brilliantly done by John Hurt). Both sadly passed away very recently and it’s just a coincidence that I chose this as a Blind Spot movie as I’d been wanting to see it for years. So, in their honor, I’m happy to say that Watership Down is a wonderful story and I’m very glad to have added another John Hurt classic to my recent list of My Top Ten John Hurt Movies (a list which is still sadly missing a few big films I have yet to see). I’ve now updated that list & Watership Down is very high (ain’t nothing gonna beat Alien, though! EVER). I hadn’t realized just how many voices Hurt had done for animated films and, based on how great he was in this, I’m now moving Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings (in which he voices Aragorn) much further up my “To Watch” list. So far, I’m very happy with my 2017 Blind Spot choices.
My Rating: 8/10
Here’s Art Garfunkel doing the Bright Eyes song from Watership Down. The song is actually only very briefly featured in the film – I expected to hear the whole thing…
**FYI: Netflix & the BBC are making a new Watership Down mini-series with a pretty impressive cast (James McAvoy, John Boyega, Nicholas Hoult, Ben Kingsley, and Gemma Arterton to name a few). This will apparently air sometime this year. I can’t find more current information on it but you can read an old article about it HERE at Variety.com. Will be interesting to see but I’ll read the book first. I’m sure this version will be a watered-down Watership Down…
Oh, I actually managed to go to a movie over the weekend! And it was almost as violent as Watership Down. See you tomorrow with my review of John Wick: Chapter 2.