From the Vault: Watership Down

Today, when one thinks of an animated film, multitudes of names and ideas spring to mind. Pixar, Disney, motion-capture, CGI, 3D – things which in today’s modern age are fairly common-place as technology and multi-million dollar budgets allow film makers to push boundaries and concepts in all directions, including the animated family film. In a sense, Watership Down is not completely forgotten. Mention the name to someone and you may get such replies as “that old cartoon about rabbits” or “the one with Bright Eyes in it” or even perhaps mention of the classic novel by Richard Adams.

My worry is that with this ever-growing tired of new family/children’s films being churned out on a massive scale by Hollywood and the like, be they good pictures or not, wonderful tales such as Watership Down will be completely buried. This will perhaps inevitably result in future generations never knowing the wonder of seeing it. I realise at this point that I am sounding like an old fart, harking back to the glory days, but I truly believe Watership Down is an utter classic that should not be forgotten.


The animated tale following the adventures of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and their fellow rabbits may seem slightly dated by today’s standards, yet it still looks wonderful. The detail, the flare, the colour – it is all beguiling to behold. Add to this the fantastic music – yes, Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes features crucially in a sequence that is certainly one of the reasons for this film being voted 15th in “the 100 Greatest Tearjerkers” by Total Film. Angela Morley’s wonderful score is often overlooked, but in my opinion is one of the greatest collections of music of all time, presenting moments of serenity, joy, suspense, thrills, and sorrow. An element that should certainly not be overlooked is the magnificent cast. This film shows early example of the vocal talents of John Hurt and Richard Briers, playing Hazel and Fiver respectively, who have become two of Britain’s greatest acting national treasures. They are two jewels in a crown of wonderful talent, including Harry Andrews’ evilly twisted General Woundwort, and Zero Mostel’s hilariously endearing Keehar.

Crucially, this film openly acknowledges throughout that it is certainly not solely aimed at children. Yes there are moments that are joyous and charming that children would enjoy, but Watership Down is certainly not Postman Pat: The Movie. Within this film also lie scenes, sequences and ideas that are dark, and potentially more adult. Though this is a coming-of-age film, with generations seeing it before me as a child, I maintain it can be watched by anyone at any time. It is perhaps one of the original emotional roller-coasters, made before the term was adopted to sell every film in the trailers. Full of drama, laughter and adventure, Watership Down may be an “old” film that has delighted generations of the past, yet I know it can do so much more again for those of the future, if it is only remembered, and continually enjoyed.

Sam Jackson


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