Watership Down (1978)

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Did you ever run across bits and pieces of an obscure movie you saw from time to time as a child or teen that was running on a cable premium movie back in the day? Watership Down was one of those movies that was made in the late 70s dealing with environmentalism and loss of animal habitat and how a particular group of rabbits deal with moving from an oppressive society to start their own. You will never see fluffy little bunnies the same way again.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you… but first they must catch you.” This is the closing line the great creation god Frith tells El-Ahrairah, the Prince of the Rabbits. Frith had made all the animals equal, but as the rabbits multiplied and took away most of the herbivore food sources, Frith decides some rabbit population control was in order. The animals that were once the rabbits’ friends where now their predators. As El-Ahrairah observed these changes, he was looking for a place to hide. As he was half in and out of a burrow, Frith decides to bless this creature’s face he cannot see with long legs and acute senses of hearing and sight. Frith was not counting on the most dangerous predator to come into play, mankind.

Fast forward to several millenia later to the English countryside. Here we meet Hazel (John Hurt), a sleek charismatic rabbit bound by his society’s heirarchy. Hazel’s brother, Fiver (Richard Briers), who has a gift of seeing visions of the future, but tends to jump at every noise. Fiver’s newest vision is devastating, and he sees blood covering the fields near the warren where their colony of burrows is located. He warns Hazel that he sees much death coming, and that the rabbits must evacuate the warren. Hazel tells Fiver he must take the news to the Chief Rabbit (Ralph Richardson). The Chief Rabbit dismisses them, not wanting change to come to them, feeling falsely secure, even though there has been evidence of men surveying the area near the warren.

Hazel knows his brother’s are never wrong, and Hazel and a few other rabbits make a break to find a new home in the night. The Chief sends his soldiers after them. Bigwig (Michael Graham Cox), his most trusted general, understands Fiver’s vision, and leads the other soldiers to a fake trail, and then decides to join Hazel and Fiver on their quest. Along the way they meet with new friends and enemies, and even some enemies that could be friends. Their most efficient allies are Kehaar, a black-headed seagull (Zero Mostel), and Cowslip, a dissident rabbit from an even more oppressive warren than the one they left, close to where Hazel and Fiver and their friends make their new home. They need does from this warren if they want to make this new warren in Watership Down, a hill in the northern area of Hampshire, a success, and Hazel is now Chief Rabbit. These rabbits live up to their reputation given to them by Frith, as they outsmart just about all enemies, including those of their own kind, using man-made objects to get them about on their way.

This is the first film adaptation of the 1972 novel by Robert Adams, and the book is Penguin Books best-selling novel of all time. This tale is bloody, and can be scary for young children, but teens and adults can learn some lessons from this story in so many subjects. These are not cute little bunnies, but as Kehaar says, “You stupid bunnies! You bring no mates to your new home? You have no chicks! No eggs!” Kehaar is seeing things through a bird’s point of view, but Hazel and his friends manage just fine in finding does to carry on the building of the Watership Down warren.

The art style was done in a similar style of the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and Return of the King, as where many other animated movies of the time. In fact, the cat, Tabb, that attacks Daisy in their attempt to get the does to Watership Down, looks very much like Smaug in The Hobbit. This story comes from a time when going green was just coming into fashion, and there were several other movies made globally that sent out the same message. Maybe it is time for us to look at this film again to see how much of our own world mirrors the warrens of Hampshire, and what we can do to stop visions of destruction on our own countryside.

I give this film a Musing review of ★★★★★☆ 



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