For those of you following the podcast, I promised some time last year to do a YLOCWW of what might be my most controversial video to date: “Watership Down.” For those of you who aren’t Michael O’Donoghue fans, this animated movie may be a bit of a shock. It’s based upon a political fable, written by Richard Adams, about a group of bunnies who are given a prophecy that their homeland is about to be destroyed, and thus must relocate to a new warren. Along the way they are beset by numerous trials and tribulations, but are ultimately delivered unto the promised land. Now, let’s break it down…
We’re talking about bunnies here. British bunnies, no less. No, as close as we get to sex, is a suggestion by one of the fascist Owsler rabbits that an Owsler-guard can have his share of the does (female rabbits). This is as close as it gets. Seriously, if your five year-old can divine the meaning there, then your “talk” with them is long overdue.
While there is a disturbing level of violence (see below) in Watership Down, there is little horror. Probably the scariest part of the movie is when the rabbits come upon the first warren that they think may be their new permanent settlement. The warren is populated entirely by old, stuffy rabbits. There are no kits, and no does, but plenty of food mysteriously left for the rabbits by humans. As it turns out the place is a trap to capture rabbits for food. This scene is very spooky, and when Bigwig is caught in a snare, there is blood coming out of his mouth. If your geekling is too young for blood, then they are definitely too young for Watership Down.
Watership Down has a number of good values expressed in it. The first is that the lead hero of the story, Hazel, succeeds through cleverness — not superior force. He succeeds by being true to his nature. He’s a rabbit, not a dog. The second, and larger, point is that Watership Down is a diatribe against fascism and police states. General Woundwort is the totalitarian dictator of Efrafa and tells everyone down to the last doe and kit, what to do and when to do it.
This is where Watership Down gets into some fairly sketchy territory for what is ostensibly a kids cartoon. This is why I saved it for last. The rabbits are violent with one another to the point of drawing blood, and even killing one another. In addition, other animals get in on the rabbit slaying.
Watership Down is a questionable choice for a kids movie, and not at all for the very young. My geek-pup first saw this when she was eight, and has loved it ever since. It is probably one of her top three favorite movies of all time, and has never given her nightmares. It is one of the few cartoons I like to watch with her, because it is more substantive than many more “traditional” cartoons.
[This post original ran in February, 2008]