Watership Down (1978)

watership down poster 1978 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Simple story, but entertaining, some interesting art

Some art is bland, too intense for some kids

Movie Info

Movie Name: Watership Down

Studio: Nepenthe Productions

Genre(s): Animated/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): October 19, 1978

MPAA Rating: PG

watership down el ahrairah fable

Love the art for the El-ahrairah fable

A vision of death has come to Fiver, and Fiver’s brother Hazel realizes that the warren must move.  Unable to convince the leaders of the warren, Hazel, Fiver, and a small band of rabbits begin a desperate mission to seek out a safe place.  Besieged by their enemies, the descendants of El-ahrairah find that their own kind might be the greatest danger…as Lord Frith hangs heavy in the sky.

Directed by Martin Rosen (with uncredited help from John Hubley), Watership Down adapts the 1972 best-selling novel by Richard Adams.  The film was a success in the UK, but underperformed in the United States but has gained a cult following since its release.  A remastered version of the film was released by Criterion (Criterion #748).

I remember seeing a trailer or a clip of Watership Down when I was little and wanting to see it (but being told it wasn’t really for kids).  I still ended up seeing it at a rather young age…and was completely wrecked by the movie.

watership down bigwig snare trap blood

Cute little rabbit…dying painfully

The movie is quite unforgiving and a foray into “adult” animated features.  While a kid can watch, understand, and like the movie (I did), it is also pretty terrifying.  You have rabbits brutally attacking each other, dogs killing rabbits, and the horrifying caught in a snare moment with Bigwig who grows covered in flies, saliva, and blood as he tries to free himself.  The story has a lot real world undertones and some biblical aspects to the story.  I particularly enjoy how the rabbits try to make sense out of the world they are living in (especially the humans) and their own creation mythology.

The film cast strong voice actors for the roles.  John Hurt has the lead as Hazel with Richard Briers playing his brother Fiver.  Ralph Richardson played the chief rabbit of Hazel and Fiver’s warren while the terrifying Woundwort was played by Harry Andrews.  The conniving Cowslip was Indiana Jones alum Denholm Elliott and Nigel Hawthorne also had a small role as Campion.  The scene stealing Kehaar (who even shouts “piss off” to the little rabbits) was played by American performer Zero Mostel.

watership down bigwig vs woundwort blood rabbits

Aren’t rabbits cute when they play and hop together?

The art of Watership Down also tells you that you aren’t watching a Disney movie.  It is radically different than Disney (especially at the time) and features a tons of different styles within the movie.  It is ragged and raw at points and I’ll admit that I don’t always like the rabbit designs which unfortunately sometimes cheapen the movie.  However, it displays the brutality of the film which isn’t afraid to get bloody…real bloody.

Watership Down is a weird anomaly in the animated film world.  Like the book, it is a story that should be for kids, but adults will enjoy it far more than children who could be traumatized by it.  The book’s popularity always puts Watership Down on the list of films for a remake.  A Canadian-British TV series ran from 1999-2001 and a new version of the series is scheduled for release on Netflix in 2017.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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