Watership Down (1978)

Movie review by
Brian Camp, Common Sense Media
Watership Down (1978) Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Book-based animated tale has intense peril, violence.
  • PG
  • 1978
  • 72 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 36 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 85 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Explores themes of freedom, totalitarianism, fight for survival in nature, and environmental destruction. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The rabbits display positive human values like bravery, valor, love of freedom, concern for others. 

Violence

Nature violence and imagery that might be too scary for younger, more sensitive viewers. Main characters, rabbits, are shown getting attacked by hawks, cats, dogs. They are also shown being buried alive when construction vehicles dump sand in their warrens. Rabbit shown caught in a snare. Rabbit shot with a rifle by a farmer. Blood.  Antagonist rabbits shown attacking another rabbit, biting off pieces of their ears, violently scratching their sides, resulting in blood. Recurring character known as Black Rabbit of Death.

Sex

The lead characters, male bunny rabbits, realize that they must find female bunny rabbits for purposes of procreation. 

Language

A bird tells the rabbits to "piss off." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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. 

Wondering if Watership Down (1978) is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bynduns March 26, 2009

Before writing your review, you have to read the first paragraph of mine

I love how so many people just assume this is a kid's movie just because it's animated. This is based off of a novel for adults, so of course it... Continue reading
Adult Written byjslick July 12, 2019

Definitely not a children’s movie

Definitely messed me up when i was younger, my grandma didn’t know it wasn’t a children’s movie since the cover looks fine. Make sure to explain to your kids wh... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 27, 2014

WHAT????????

Too many bloody murders! THIS IS NOT FOR KIDS!
Teen, 15 years old Written byCarFox July 12, 2011

Watch it.

This movie was one of my favorites when I was a kid. It's very violent, and definitely not for young kids, even though I watched it when I was about five b... Continue reading

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? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love animation

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate