Watership Down (1978)

Article 3994 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-30-2012
Directed by Martin Rosen
Featuring the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox
Country: UK
What it is: Epic animated rabbit fantasy

When his rabbit warren is threatened by a human housing development, a rabbit named Hazel leads a small group of escapees on a quest to find a new warren, encountering perils along the way.

I’ve read the novel by Richard Adams, but it was many years ago; nevertheless, I was impressed that it managed to turn an unlikely subject into what amounts to an epic fantasy quest. Whatever flaws this animated adaptation of the work has, reducing the basically serious tone to one of whimsy and cuteness is NOT one of them; the movie remains serious, and even downright grim at times. The closest it comes to whimsicality is the names of some of the rabbits (Pipkin, Dandelion, Cowslip, etc.), and even the song warbled by Art Garfunkel manages to have those tinges of darkness around the edges. The movie does have a few problems; because most of the rabbits look the same, it’s sometimes hard to tell one character from another, and because the movie is forced to condense the book somewhat, certain characters never get fleshed out as well as I’d like. Still, the movie works very well; the fact that the bittersweet ending nearly brought a tear to my eye convinced me of that. The movie, however, is nearly stolen by Zero Mostel’s performance as Keharr, a lost and injured seabird who befriends the rabbits; his fractured syntax and cranky demeanor provide a welcome dose of humor, but manages also to avoid cuteness.

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