Watership Down (1978)

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.”

Synopsis:
A group of rabbits leave their warren and search for a new home, dealing with dangers and predators along the way.

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Review:
It’s rare to find a pre-CGI animated feature which deviates substantially from standard Disney form. There are some exceptions (such as the incomparable Yellow Submarine, or Ralph Bakshi’s X-rated films), but not many — which is why Martin Rosen’s Watership Down remains such a delight. This intelligent adaptation of Richard Adams’ allegorical novel respects our intelligence, and dares to assume that animated films can appeal to adults without including pornographic material. The low-budget animation is surprisingly effective, using a creative mix of watercolor backdrops and more detailed foreground action; voices by John Hurt and other esteemed British actors provide automatic gravitas to the proceedings.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Expressive animation
    Rabbits
  • Beautiful watercolor backgrounds
    watercolor
  • A surprisingly “adult” plot which doesn’t shy away from violence and difficult themes
    Violence
  • The opening “origin tale” sequence

Must See?
Yes. This unique animated feature — listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation by Peary in the back of his book — should be seen by all film fanatics.

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One Response to “Watership Down (1978)”

  1. Yes, a must – certainly unsung as a classic. Definitely one that adults can enjoy with kids; it does respect the intelligence of both groups – in fact, one wonders why there haven’t been many more of such animated films over the years. (These days, what we do get tends to hold fast to cookie-cutter tradition.) Occasionally one does get the sense that ‘WD’ is taken from larger source material (at moments, it’s a little hard to follow) but overall the execution is marvelous, particularly the color schemes. I also like the fingernails-on-blackboard voice of Zero Mostel as Kehaar, who adds comic relief. Don’t be surprised if the poignancy of the ending gets to you.

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