A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Watership Down is the 1978 animated adaptation of the classic Richard Adams novel. The movie doesn't sugarcoat deeper themes such as the life and death struggle in nature, the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, and the negative impact humans can have on the environment. A group of rabbits, the lead characters of the movie, are shown getting attacked by hawks, cats, dogs, humans, and other rabbits, sometimes graphically so. Rabbits are shown injured, bloody, and on the brink of death -- including scenes in which antagonist rabbits bite off chunks of other rabbits' ears and scratch their sides and leave bloody scars, a rabbit is shot by a human and a friendly bird picks the buckshot out of the bloody injury, and another rabbit is caught in a snare. Brief profanity is heard: A bird tells the rabbits to "piss off." This may be a bit much for younger and more sensitive viewers, especially kids who love rabbits. However, for tweens and younger teens in the midst of outgrowing the cartoons of their childhood and beginning to take their first steps in processing and understanding deeper themes, Watership Down should inspire thought, reflection, and discussion about these underlying messages.
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What's the story?
This feature-length theatrical release based on Richard Adams's book Watership Down follows a group of rabbits, led by Hazel (voiced by John Hurt), Bigwig, and the hypersensitive Fiver. They leave their endangered warren (earmarked for real estate development) in search of a new home and female rabbits with whom to mate. Their journey is laced with numerous obstacles, including a dog, a cat, rats, men, cars, birds of prey, and other rabbits. In the final stage of their quest, they find a secure habitat but incur the wrath of a militaristic band of rabbits led by the dictatorial General Woundwort. A deadly battle ensues as our heroes attempt to secure their new home.
Is it any good?
A rare British-produced animated feature, WATERSHIP DOWN is an original drama with realistic animation, sharp characterizations, and brutal honesty about the territorial imperative. This is a stellar alternative to the glitzy musical numbers, cutesy characters, sentimental excesses, and merchandisable sidekicks of Disney movies.
For older kids and adult fans, the story offers plenty of drama, suspense, and action as the rabbits make their way through an idyllic landscape that turns out to be quite treacherous. It's all set against beautifully designed backgrounds and enacted by realistically drawn rabbits, all convincingly differentiated from each other. The superb voice acting is performed by a notable cast who treat their characters with as much gravity as they would Shakespearean roles. Complementing the drama is a music score that subtly and effectively accentuates the emotional twists and turns of the proceedings.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the deeper messages of the movie. How are these messages conveyed?
What are some other examples of movies and books in which animals represent aspects of humanity and human nature -- politics, society, beliefs?
Was some of the violence and imagery necessary to convey the movie's deeper messages, or was it too scary and overwhelming, ultimately distracting from what the movie was trying to express?
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