Watership Down: The Most Terrifying Animated Film Ever

Watership Down film
Bunny rabbits.

Okay, we’ve not covered Watership Down on this site before but, for many adults all grown up, it’s one of those movies which scarred you as a kid. To be fair, this is a damn good animated movie, but it’s renowned for its unflinching brutality and depiction of a totalitarian state through fluffy bunny rabbits.

Released in 1978 and starring the vocal talents of Sir John Hurt, it’s a brutal film masquerading as a kid-friendly romp-along but, despite the terror it’s able to instil, it’s an important film to watch as it dishes out some important life lessons which have certainly stuck with us over the years.

Watership Down

Our very own Mr. Wapojif watched this as a young one on a day when he’d had a minor illness – he remembers being very cold one super cold late summer evening, needing a blanky, and kicking back to watch Watership Down. It’s an animation with rabbits – a rollicking adventure, surely?!

Based on Richard Adams’ novel from 1972, one can sum the themes up as something of a bunny rabbit polemic with environmental overtones. Then there’s also the horror. This starts early on when young Fiver (initially dismissed by the rest of the warren as a paranoid halfwit… also, a tenner would have been nicer) has mortifying dreams. He convinces a select few, led by Hazel, to make a break for it and, after his prophecies come true, they meet a survivor who lets rip with a horrifying tale of suffocation and a bunny rabbit crush.

Next up, Bigwig gets caught up in a snare trap and, my word, the brutality gets ramped up further and further when, attempting to find a peaceful nature reserve to call home, they come across a totalitarian bunny rabbit state (the Efrafans) run by a psychopath. Events become increasingly mental and bloody, with many pitched bunny rabbit on bunny rabbit battles leading to the conclusion.

Brian Jacques’ excellent Redwall series had similar themes of animals in conflict, although they possess anthropomorphic qualities which are entirely missing in Watership Down. Instead, the cast lends the rabbits endearing qualities – John Hurt’s distinctive, brilliant voice adds real haunting gravitas to the film as he can’t reel off a sentence without you thinking something remarkable has happened.

At the centre of it all, however, you have a powerful tale which is somehow classified with a U rating. As in, Universal – toddlers perfectly able to watch this one! With its themes of conflict, life, death, and mythology, it’s a complex one for any kid to take on, but this doesn’t take away from what is an excellent film… we’re just always surprised it doesn’t have an 18+ rating. Mind you, there is a rabbit called Dandelion, who surely alone is worthy of a PG rating…

The Prologue

The film begins with a remarkable section about bunny rabbit lore, which we couldn’t find on YouTube so plumped for the reworked version above. This is pretty captivating and encapsulates the nature of evolution in how creatures evolve to overcome the adversity they come up against (or, you know, God just put them here and all has been well ever since). It’s captivating stuff and, as a kid, it left Mr. Wapojif pretty spellbound.

Keehar

There are moments of humour, too, mainly from the Russian seagull Keehar, who is cantankerous, foulmouthed, and always super cool. Voiced by Zero Mostel, who died in 1977 before the film was released, Keehar is the comic relief and also manages to land some pretty high-grade profanity into this “kids movie”. Whatever. It’s an 18+, this one, watch it at your peril.

9 comments

  1. Watership Down mildly traumatised me as a kid (my mother said it was a “classic” that I should definitely watch!) and I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it again since. I generally have a reasonably strong stomach, but the whole blood and bunnies thing made me very uncomfortable at the time and still does!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much the same for my sister, she’s terrified and refuses to watch it. I’ve watched it several times but, yeah, it’s not exactly a Friday night, pizza, and a glass of champagne type film. The bunnies!

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  2. What a wild coincidence – a few weeks ago, I browsed through a list of “must-read” books and decided I had overlooked Watership Down for too long. I just finished it a few days ago (I loved it) and was about to view this film as a next step!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brace yourself, squire! This one is brutal, but there are some interesting changes from the novel as well. Most people I know saw the movie as a kid, so it’s be interesting to see it as an adult first time out. Brigghtt eyyeesss!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is super scary but also an amazing film. I just can’t believe it’s classed as kid friendly. I mean the Redwall books I read as a kid were quite brutal, but nothing like the madness of Watership Down. Terrifying.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Noooo, not in the least. Redwall is pretty graphic for a kids book, but I guess because they’re anthropomorphic, it’s not as bad? They also have their cutesy parts, but there’s none of that in WD. Like you have this idea of rabbits as cute little bunnies, and Watership Down utterly dashes that, and it’s actually not inaccurate! Richard Adams did research on rabbits before writing it, and while I’m not entirely sure if one would take on a dog, they do fight amongst themselves like that.

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