50/50 Review #41: Watership Down.

Was I supposed to be on drugs while I watched this? Watership Down tells the story Fiver (Richard Brier), a rabbit with some psychic-esque abilities, and his wise friend, Hazel (John Hurt). One day Fiver gets a feeling bad things are coming to their warren (home), so he talks a group of rabbits in leaving with him to find a new home. Along the way, they face many dangers and eventually have to figure out how to prosper in a new land.

The story and its themes are inspired by Homer's The Odyssey and Virgil's The Aeneid. In other words, for an animated flick about bunnies, this film is dark, depressing, violent, and totally screwed up. Despite my love of the old Greek and Roman tales, I had a few difficulties getting into the story. I couldn't tell you why, but it was just something about it that didn't click with me.

It might have been the characters, as I had a difficult time for a while telling them apart. They did have their own characteristics, but there were still plenty of times it was difficult remembering which rabbit was who and what their personality was (if they had one) and what their role is in the story. Couple that with trying to mentally compare it to its inspiration, and I found myself lost for a good chunk of the movie. Even after I figured them out, I still couldn't much get into them. Perhaps it was the lack of differentiation or emotion in their voices (partly, anyway).

But I think it's the animation that needs to be discussed here. I've never really seen anything like it in a movie before. It's quite unique (Side note: how do you catch a unique rabbit? Unique up on it!). It almost looks like a painting that's turned into animation. But a really trippy painting that starts wigging out on you after you take some hallucinogens. Because this movie ends up in some very bizarre places visually. It sometimes drifts smoothly into almost a dream-like or nightmarish state where everything is off-the-walls, weird, or terrifying. It's also one of the most violent animated bunny movies I've ever seen, and the animation of violence and blood is both unsuspecting and quite well done. Apparently people still complain about the film's PG rating, and it remains today to be the most violent PG animated film ever made.

On the whole, though, I didn't really dislike it. In fact, once I got into it, I did enjoy it--even if it got really crazy at times. I particularly liked the character of Bigwig, as he was a pretty badass bunny. The animation was good and really interesting, which allows it to flow in and out of those strange sequences without seeming out of place. I doubt I'll watch it again, as I wasn't really in love with it, though I can see why somebody would be. It just wasn't all for me.

I Am McLovin!


  1. I remember liking this when I was a kid because none of my other friends had heard of it. Then I re-watched as an adult and I think it's totally fucked up for a kids movie. Not bad, just..unique. You definitely nailed it here.

    1. Yeah, I never saw this as a kid (or read the book). I think that might have hurt the experience for me a bit, since I didn't have either prior knowledge from the book happenings or the nostalgia factor going in.

      But yeah, it's a totally fucked up kids movie. It might be an animated film about bunnies, but that doesn't mean anything.

  2. Nick, you're too kind.

    I only discovered the book a handful of years ago and LOVED it. I consider it among my all-time favorites. And your initial bead on the story -- an epic tale a la "The Odyssey" -- is dead on. In fact, as I read "Watership Down," it was easy to imagine a live action film adaptation, pitched as "Lord of the Rings" with Bunnies.

    So I was all excited to track down and watch this movie... this ill-conceived, artistic miscarriage of a movie.

    Clearly the producers had never read the story, because elements of the film are clearly geared for kids, despite the fact that we can all agree this is absolutely NOT for kids. How can anything feel epic when Art Garfunkel won't shut the hell up for two seconds? I can't think of a faster way to sap the energy and excitement out of an adventure story than to swamp it with sappy-ass folk music.

    And what exactly were the animators smoking? Fiver's visions are like a bad trip? The only bad trip here was the trip out to go get the DVD of this movie.

    I know it's cliche to say that the book is better, but in the instance of "Watership Down," I can't think of a greater discrepancy between the two.

    1. That's crazy. I was under the impression it was a solid adaptation from things I kinda saw around the webz. But I guess not! I have no experience with the book, but for greatest discrepancy between book and film, that award has to go to either Dean Koontz's Watchers or Eragon (probably the former). Those are just painfully adapted in every way. Eragon was already not a great book--essentially poorly written plagiarism--and I felt back for the author after I saw the film.


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