What The Hell Is “Watership Down”? The Criterion Collection Provides The Answer
The Criterion Collection is a distribution company that specializes in “important” classic and contemporary films. Through Hulu, many of these films are made available to stream. Once a week, I like to illuminate a Criterion movie — to deepen one’s understanding of filmmaking and film history. This week’s movie: “Watership Down” (1978).
Last week, BBC One and Netflix announced a new animated series rooted in something many found familiar. In 2017, the online streaming site will release an updated look at Watership Down — based on the classic adventure novel by Richard Adams, which was made into a movie in 1978.
The news received a lot of attention through the social media landscape, as this is another example of networks/streaming sites taking advantage of the revival craze happening right before our eyes. The part of the story that made me do a double take: many noted how this story frightened them as kids.
Huh? Did I miss something?
In my 22 years of existence, I had never heard of Watership Down. Please, don’t hunt me down. I guess it slipped under the radar all this time. When a new miniseries was announced, I was in the ultimate “what the fuck” mode.
Like all my filmmaking questions, I turned to the Criterion Collection. In its catalogue on Hulu, there sat Watership Down — its shadowed rabbit poster hidden by more illustrious filmmaking names. With absolutely zero background information, I pressed play.
Watership Down is a British animated feature film, released in 1978. It features the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox and John Bennett. The film is written and directed by Martin Rosen, who also produced the film. The film is an adventure epic (only in plot, as the runtime is not at epic length: 101 minutes), as a group of rabbits travel high and low for safety as their home is threatened by new dangers.
What struck me most about the film is its power of nostalgia with animated movies. This film took me back to the animated movies I watched as a kid — mainly the ones from Don Bluth and company. Movies such as The Secret of NIMH and American Tail were an early staple of animated film for me as a kid. Those films and Watership Down feature adventure epics, where the characters went on journeys to foreign (to me as a kid and to the characters) places. I envied these characters, despite the hardships they went through, as they traveled to these places. As a kid, I wanted to travel, too!
Along with featuring exotic locations, these animated movies were dark. From its actual animation to the themes and concepts the film portrayed, there was always a quality that kids should not be watched. It went deeper than sex or violence. Concepts such as dealing with death played heavily in these films; Watership Down is no exception. Bugged eye, I watched Watership Down with fascination as the memories of youth came through while the rabbits tried to ward off evil. While watching this Criterion film, I greatly appreciated these concepts I adored as a kid. Watership Down was one of the first to try this with an animated movie. It broke the door down for others to succeed.
I am impressed with the film’s animation. Its style is absolutely disturbing, adding only to its dark place in animation history. I mean, what ravaged rabbits with blood covering its face would not scare you?
However important Watership Down is to the history of film and animation, I found myself bored while watching the film. I did not find myself connecting to these characters whatsoever. Perhaps the film has fallen victim to adulthood. Has my childhood imagination gone away for good?!? OK, back to reality…
If Netflix and BBC are trying to hit the nostalgia nerve, they picked a really interesting movie to do. Looking back at the 1978 film, the nostalgia feelings are evident. Obviously, those feelings with me differ: I connect with the animated movies of the time; others connect with the actual film. That said, perhaps the new upcoming series is not for me.