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Watership Down (1978)

This animated version of Richard Adams’s bestselling novel about a group of rabbits searching for a new home was a box-office success, despite the difficulty of being pigeonholed as a “kids’ movie” but released with a PG certificate (for several genuinely scary scenes).

In fact, the faithful retelling of the story of a colony of rabbits seeking a new home after the destruction of their warren gives the movie a dark sophistication that will attract older children and their parents. Next to Bambi, this often harrowing film must surely hold a record for most children traumatised.

When the story begins, a young rabbit named Fiver (voiced by Richard Briers) has an apocalyptic vision of his clan’s warren being destroyed. Fiver and his older brother, Hazel (voiced by John Hurt), share the vision with their contemptuous leader, Chief Rabbit (voiced by Ralph Richardson), who dismisses their worries.

Sure that danger is looming, Fiver and Hazel lead a group of friends away from the warren in search of a new life. So begins an adventure that involves ecological devastation, existential quandaries, lethal predation, reproductive angst, social strife, and other heavy issues.

watership

Martin Rosen inherited the project after John Hubley, who helped animate many Disney classics of the 1940s, had departed owing to “creative differences”.

The voice cast – including a bonkers Zero Mostel as the seagull Kehaar – is truly impressive.

Hurt and Rosen would reunite for the animated dramatisation of Adams’s darker follow-up, The Plague Dogs. And the tale is crowned (or saddled, according to taste) with Art Garfunkel’s rendition of the chart-topping Bright Eyes.

The visual style is ambitious, with a naturalistic style and watercolour backgrounds that some may find clunky and others will adore.

The animation hasn’t aged well since 1978, while the script rings false in places, yet the narrative’s cumulative power still casts a spell and bunny tyrant General Woundwort (Harry Andrews) remains a uniquely chilling villain.

Fans of the book and Japanese manga should appreciate its unique look, others may find themselves drifting off.

Exercise caution before introducing kiddies to this doom-laden tale!

Hazel
John Hurt
Fiver
Richard Briers
Bigwig
Michael Graham-Cox
Captain Holly
John Bennett
Chief Rabbit
Ralph Richardson
Blackberry
Simon Cadell
Silver
Terence Rigby
Pipkin
Roy Kinnear
Dandelion 
Richard O’Callaghan
Cowslip 
Denholm Elliott
Cat 
Lynn Farleigh
Clover 
Mary Maddox
General Woundwort 
Harry Andrews
Hyzenthlay
Hannah Gordon
Kehaar
Zero Mostel
Frith
Michael Hordern

Director
Martin Rosen

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