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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 7.41%
Pretty Bad: 1.85%
Total Crap: 1.85%

1 review, 48 user ratings

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Watership Down
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A dark and transfixing fable that happens to star cartoon bunnies."
5 stars

A fable of fettered souls yearning for freedom, "Watership Down" — based on the beloved novel by Richard Adams — has long been burdened with sociopolitical meaning that Adams himself never intended (or so he has said). A young, fearful rabbit named Fiver has been having troubling visions of impending doom. "The field is covered in blood," he whimpers, and we see that, sure enough, blood is everywhere. This, in case you were wondering, is your first clue that this isn't a Disney toon.

Hardly anyone in Sandleford Warren takes Fiver seriously except his brother Hazel. These are very British rabbits; in one of my favorite moments, when Fiver is jabbering about his visions, we overhear a bemused rabbit muttering "What's he on about?"

Fiver's visions, it turns out, are real: Sandleford is soon to be bulldozed to make way for a housing development. So Fiver, Hazel, and a few other believers -- including Bigwig, a former member of the warren's "owsla" (paramilitary group) -- set off for points unknown. They have to trust in the intuitions of Fiver, who knows only that Sandleford is unsafe and that there is a better place ahead -- a high place of rolling hills, devoid of mankind. That place is Watership Down. Once there, they realize they don't have any does (females) with them, and a few of them go to a nearby farm to liberate some. In the course of their journey, the rabbits run across two other warrens: an odd place where the rabbits have good food but suspiciously empty burrows, and a fascist warren run by the fearsome General Woundwort. Scholars of the book have suggested that the rabbits in these latter warrens are doomed because they have abandoned Frith, the god of creation in the rabbits' mythology; they've abandoned spirituality in favor of personal gain (food) or power (the Efrafa warren run by Woundwort with the help of vicious owsla).

Richard Adams, who like so many authors began Watership Down as a story told to his children, put a lot of lapine mythology into his novel. Devotees of the book say this is where the movie version falls short. It has room only for the basic quest -- the dangers, the escapes, the battles, the strategies. My feeling is that the book is the book and the movie is the movie, and that if you want the mythology, it's there in Adams' book and its 1996 sequel Tales from Watership Down. The movie still retains the vivid characterization of the novel, as well as the incidents that have sparked so much speculation. And it's beautifully realized -- a rainbow of muted colors and perfect voice casting. John Hurt is the voice of the sensible Hazel, Richard Briars the nervous visionary Fiver, Ralph Richardson the imposing Chief Rabbit, Denholm Elliott the snooty Cowslip -- who lives in the warren that fans have come to call the Warren of Shining Wires. A potentially discordant note is the loud seagull Kehaar, voiced by the loud Zero Mostel. Kehaar sometimes comes perilously close to being the Jar Jar Binks of Watership Down, but the difference is that he's funny when he's supposed to be, and helpful when he needs to be.

All told, the movie is an excellent and unsoftened take on the novel, though I regret the pacing that sometimes makes it feel like a TV movie; there are a few too many fades to black where it seems a commercial should go. There's a musical interlude set to the song "Bright Eyes" (sung by Art Garfunkel) that's subtle enough -- at least it's not a pull-out-the-stops Disney number -- but also runs on a bit. Otherwise, all these years later, this is the same movie I fell in love with as a kid. The villains are genuinely frightening; I'd put Woundwort up against anyone whose name begins with Darth, and the crosscutting in the climax -- Bigwig vs. Woundwort, while a hungry dog decimates most of the Efrafa owsla -- has it all over the similar climax in Star Wars Episode I. The grim, brutal moments stand out more in memory, but actually a good deal of the film is hopeful and almost idyllic.

Watership Down has gotten a somewhat tarnished "too intense for younger children" rep, and it does have its moments of abrupt, unforgiving violence when some of the characters meet the Black Rabbit of Inlé a lot sooner than they ever wanted to. When the rabbits are slashed, they bleed, and when they die, they go out with eyes open and tongues lolling out. But it really doesn't tell children anything they can't handle; hell, even Bambi showed kids that nature is cruel and man is the ugliest predator. They might as well learn it young. There is an actual Watership Down, the Hampshire/Berkenshire region located west of London; the land surrounding it is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In recent years, according to reports, the rabbits in the real-life Watership Down have multiplied and dug too many holes in what is essentially an agricultural area. The government came up with a plan to discourage the rabbits: mass extermination by gassing.

It ain't no Bugs Bunny, folks. It's a fable that deserves to take its place alongside "Lord of the Rings" — and, to this critic anyway, it has far more resonance.

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originally posted: 05/23/06 04:57:29
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User Comments

4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
4/06/14 Jack Beautiful and Sad. Need a good cry? Watch this movie. 5 stars
7/03/09 bethany cox One of the best non-Disney anmations I have ever seen! Beautiful, moving and terrifying. 5 stars
6/28/09 kyle Dark and beautiful. 5 stars
2/08/09 Kayden One of the greatest animated features ever concieved. Great book, great movie. 5 stars
8/27/08 Bob I, too, cry when I watch this film. It's brutal and touching and beautiful, esp the music. 5 stars
11/16/07 Emily Great book, great movie 5 stars
7/22/06 David Cohen Proof that animation doesn;t have to mean kiddie fare or x-rated spoof 5 stars
6/02/06 Woog This was good this and the animated version of the lion withc and the wardrobe 4 stars
5/25/06 Gavin Bamber I prefer the book 4 stars
2/23/04 Adam Fantasic film 5 stars
12/07/03 john one of the best animated movies ever made - equally enjoyable for kids and adults really!! 5 stars
4/22/03 Dave Rabbits will inherit the Earth! Just you wait! 5 stars
11/23/02 Charles Tatum The best animated film of all time 5 stars
11/02/02 Rauri Pountain Really lovely, touches a nerve 5 stars
4/24/02 Kelly Fantastic adaptation despite (necessary) omissions in plot, not one for nervous kiddies! 5 stars
3/22/02 Stephen Paustain Wish it was longer.Great movie!!! 5 stars
2/24/02 MK farmer I saw this when I was 5, and it's still my favorite movie. 5 stars
2/18/02 Andrew Carden Excellent Adaption Of The Novel. Realistic, Good Performances. 5 stars
2/15/02 Rauri Pountain, PhD Really, really, really nice 5 stars
2/15/02 Erik Gartzke An Animation I enjoyed watching repeatedly as a child AND adult. Similar to Animal Farm. 5 stars
12/12/01 claire wonderful 5 stars
12/04/01 Kelly I thouht it was a weird book * i mean some rabbits running away from home WHOOPIE 3 stars
12/03/01 Brian Moore The greatest animated movie ever. 5 stars
11/30/01 Curtiss Ryan Mooney The movie had a difficult time conveying the charm of the book, but is still worth a look. 4 stars
11/02/01 Kerri Davies I Cried when Hazel Died, and i still do every time i hear Bright Eyes 5 stars
10/08/01 Jonathan Not bad... I loved it ! 5 stars
10/03/01 jenna I thought it was nice toread before bed, made me fall asleep ,! 3 stars
9/14/01 Chris Gallagher A moving film, wonderfully animated and a joy to watch again and again 5 stars
6/14/01 norseman To this day, a true to the novel film. Stands out amongst many other films of less depth. 5 stars
6/12/01 Jimmy Phan there should be a website on the summary of the book Watership Down 5 stars
5/07/01 Sblymnl Crymnl book was alright, movie sucks 2 stars
4/24/01 Jake What a marvel. This film had a tremendous impact on me. 5 stars
4/06/01 Paul An amazingly emotional film, all ages will be drawn into this film. 5 stars
3/10/01 B*F* Absolutly amazing 5 stars
1/24/01 dave Underhill the best animated film you could ever want to see a good adaptation of a great book = ) 5 stars
1/04/01 Dawn Ingram Very original story about ingenius rabbits. Trust, friendship, and a lot of adventure! 5 stars
12/04/00 Becky Great book -- Great movie 5 stars
11/22/00 Tom Murray Excellent film. I have seen it twice and hope to see it again. 5 stars
11/07/00 harp Great story--but suffers from varying animation quality. 4 stars
11/02/00 Matthew Bartley Not as good as I remember it 3 stars
9/18/00 Tom McCullough A WONDERFUL adaptation. Should be on DVD! 5 stars
8/25/00 Mona Great!! 5 stars
6/15/00 Scott Schilz A great adaptation of a classic novel. 5 stars
6/08/00 Adam Love the book 5 stars
4/24/00 Greg Andrews It's only purpose was leading me to the fantastic book. 4 stars
4/20/00 J. Diehl Wonderful to help teach the abstraction process for middle level students. 4 stars
4/20/00 Megan Lyons Good movie 3 stars
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  14-Oct-1978 (PG)
  DVD: 26-Mar-2002



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