Based on the novel of the same name by Richard Adams, the film told the ‘tail’ of Hazel (John Hurt), Fiver (Richard Briers) and a warren of rabbits who had to leave their burrow for the “safety” of Watership Down following seer Fiver’s apocalyptic vision of its destruction.
Sounds like a jolly good cartoon adventure right? Perfectly fluffy fun for all the family?
Hah. In reality, the story was anything but bunny. So disturbing was Watership Down that clips of it are now frequently set to Requiem for A Dream’s score on YouTube.
Fiver’s apocalyptic vision may be the sequence that still resonates with those who clapped eyes on the cinematic classic, but what of (SPOILER ALERT) the omnious Owsla (rabbit police), the cunning Cowslip (whose warren is a bit of a death trap) and two rather frightening encounters with a cat and a dog, eh?
Generation X found themselves dealing with a watered down version of the classic tale when CITV rebooted it as an animated series in 1999. Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Phil Jupitus, Horrocks and Dawn French lined up to lend their vocal talents to the show. Even Briers and Hurt returned, albeit this time in smaller roles.
And yet it still left this ten-year-old feeling rather unsettled. The lasting impact of Fiver’s original vision, a darker third series of the 90s/00s offering and the residual memories of The Animals of Farthing Wood TV series (I can’t even talk about that right now) were just too much to handle.
Perhaps I was a naive young’un, but something about warring rabbit warrens and bunnies with their teeth bared just didn’t scream Saturday morning fun to me. Thank heavens The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers were still around to pick up the pieces.
But then Watership Down was never fully marketed as a children’s film, was it?
The tale may have begun life as a story Richard Adams told to his daughters on car journeys but it was always a war story (based on his own experiences as a supply officer during the British Army during World War II) at heart.
Adults flocked to see it in cinemas back in 1978 and, as a result, the movie became one of the most popular of 1979. Ask any adult in the UK today and they’ll probably tell you they’ve seen it, albeit with a hint of wide eyed worry.
So let’s not inflict any more terror on the nation eh? It’d be great to keep at least a few bright eyes burning like fire, instead of sending another generation’s childhood bunny dreams up in fluffy flames.