Animation Marathon: Watership Down

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Filmspotting (a great movie themed podcast) was going to do an Animation Marathon where they viewed six important animation films that they have not yet seen (see my original post for the full list of movies and my initial thoughts). (I meant to post this around the same time Filmspotting posted their review (the review doesn’t start until about 1 hour into that episode), but the holiday complicated matters a bit, so this is actually a few days after their review.)

The first film in the marathon was Watership Down, an adaptation of the novel by Richard Adams. With a glance at the plot summary, this looks to be a little like a typical Disney animated feature. It’s the cute & cuddly bunnies who play the protagonists that gave me that feeling, but it didn’t take long for the film to eschew normal Disney traditions. Indeed, it starts by recounting the rabbits’ mythology, which is unconventional not only because of it’s animation style, but also because of its rather violent nature. The mythology tells the story of how the rabbits came to be and how they came to be hunted, and it concludes with this memorable quote:

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when ever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you: digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.

This prologue actually captures the feel of mythology while still relating it to rabbits, which is an interesting feat. By the end of the film, it’s pretty clear that it isn’t meant for young children (though there is perhaps a separate discussion to be had about that).

As I already mentioned, the story follows a band of rabbits. At the start of the story, a bunny has a rather disturbing vision of the future (which basically shows humans developing the land thus killing many rabbits), so a bunch of bunnies resolve to avoid that fate and set off on a quest to build a new warren. But the world is a dangerous place, and they encounter many challenges along the way. It sounds pretty simple, but it ends up being somewhat complex. There are obvious correllations between the rabbits and human beings, and some vague social/political themes can be seen in the story (especially with respect to fascism). The other major theme seems to be dealing with death (both avoiding it and accepting it).

The thing that was really shocking, though, was the violence. It’s hard to describe, because we’re so used to the typical Disney way, where violence is only really hinted at or dealt with tangentially. Watership Down faces the violence of the animal kingdom head on and it doesn’t flinch. It gets vicious and bloody, which is certainly something you don’t normally see in animated films featuring fluffy bunnies and which can be a little unsettling if you’re not prepared for it.

Bloody Rabbits

Fighting Rabbits

Not your typical Disney movie

The animation is a bit simplistic, but well done and better than most animation I’ve seen from the era (which is probably not that much, but still). The voices are comprised of mostly British actors, and they do a well enough job (though, as they mentioned on Filmspotting, there is something a bit odd about it). All in all, they do a good job visually, though it’s nothing truly breathtaking.

There are many people who seem to be profoundly affected by this movie. Personally, I don’t think it reached that level. While I did enjoy it and I could recognize it’s many admirable traits, I wasn’t tremendously moved by the story either. In the end, I think it actually kicks off the marathon on a good note, as it has a style all its own (i.e. not like Disney and not quite like Anime either). The next film in the marathon will be Grave of the Fireflies, a 1988 Anime film. I’m going to try to watch that in the next few days and get my review up by Wednesday.

I’ve actually seen quite a few movies recently that I’d like to post about, including the new Bond flick (which was great) and Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated The Fountain (which was a visually stunning and intriguing… failure? My thoughts are mixed.) Look for at least one other post this week in addition to the animation review and the regular Sunday entry. [a hat tip must go to Catherine, as I lifted the above screenshots from her post]

2 thoughts on “Animation Marathon: Watership Down”

  1. The behavior of the rabbits in Watership Down is based on the natuaralist study of wild rabbits in GB. It was written as a book called The Private Life of the Rabbit. Any rabbit parent can tell you that in spite of their endearing appearance, rabbits are quite capable of raising a fair amount of hell.

  2. Yes, I’m aware of the reality of nature. However, as someone who has watched a lot of cartoons featuring rabbits, seeing the violence in Watership Down was a bit of a shock. It’s not that I didn’t think rabbits were incapable of violence in real life, it’s that I wasn’t expecting it in an animated feature…

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