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Watership Down (1978)

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

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 32 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 77 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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKuroKitten December 18, 2010

Bloody, and Highly Disturbing

I saw this movie when I was very young, being that it looked like it was a childs cartoon from the vhs cover. I was very wrong. I saw this probably when I was 5... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 10 year old Written byMattmchugh January 27, 2011

Beautiful, engaging story -- but very realistic death and violence

This is an excellent adaptation of Richard Adams' masterpiece novel about rabbits trying to survive in the English countryside. The beauty of both the boo... Continue reading
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
Teen, 14 years old Written byCrazyKaulitzWriter March 17, 2011

O.o

This movie was weird. It was very voilent, had lost of bloodshed, and kinda freaked me out. There's one scene that really, really unsettled me. Truth be to... 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

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