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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Watership Down is an animated miniseries based on Richard Adams powerful, violent book about rabbits who are forced to flee their home and battle many adversaries (it was previously adapted into a movie in 1978). There are long scenes of fighting among rabbits and between them and menacing predators; some characters suffer and die. Many enemies first pose as friends in order to win trust that they can later manipulate, and humans are mostly cast as the ultimate evil. Most of the violence erupts among animals, but one particularly tense scene shows a man shooting at rabbits, leaving a main character wounded. Expect strong language ("hell" and "damn") in a couple of dramatic moments and a range of human emotions (love, attraction, fear, grief) portrayed by the sympathetic animal characters. This story's themes are likely to inspire discussions about everything from personal liberty to comparative governing structures.
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What's the story?
WATERSHIP DOWN is a four-part miniseries that tells the tumultuous tale of a group of rabbits who flee their warren to escape the devastation of human development. Guided by the prescient visions of young Fiver (voiced by Nicholas Hoult) and led by his loyal and courageous older brother, Hazel (James McAvoy), the rabbits travel far from home, weathering dangers from predators, humans, and even other rabbit colonies. Along the way they make some unexpected friends and find their resolve tested again and again in their quest for a peaceful and safe new place to call home.
Is it any good?
Richard Adams' evocative fable returns to the screen in this compelling production from BBC and Netflix. The migrant rabbits' plight is appropriately dramatic and fraught with danger to stay true to the masterful original story, and the new animation style only slightly blunts the tale's overall intensity. It's a strange dichotomy that exists between the movie's bucolic scenery and the savagery of intraspecies brutality, but it's vital to the story's impact. The mature themes for which Watership Down is known -- self-sacrifice, human-wrought devastation, dictatorial governance and blind obedience, the pervasive threat of death, emotions both high and low, and even broader allusions to historical events like the Holocaust -- are prominent throughout, making even the smallest victories in the name of liberty that much sweeter.
Watership Down never really has been a story that's appropriate for young kids, particularly when its ruthless battles and Fiver's blood-soaked dreams are brought to the screen. This interpretation is no exception, although it's slightly less graphic than the animated 1978 version. Where this rendition most goes astray is in the animation of the rabbit characters, who aren't distinguishable enough for viewers of any age to follow the dialogue and story easily. While their physical similarities reflect both reality and their all-for-one groupthink, it's distracting to spend so much time trying to decipher among so many rabbits based on very minor physical characteristics. That said, a gorgeous and powerful musical score rounds out this powerful story whose images and messages will stay with you long after its end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the lessons that emerge from this story, tailored to the age and sensitivities of their children. Who are the heroes? What defines them as such? What other character strengths do you notice among the rabbit characters in Watership Down? What factors are important to the characters when establishing a home? How do they compare to what you value in a home?
Does this movie assert that people (or rabbits) are either good or evil, or does it suggest that circumstances dictate how we act? Would Hazel, Fiver, and their friends be more like General Woundwort and his underlings if their surroundings had been different?
Who is this story's target audience? If you have read the book, do you think that the target audience is the same as or different from that of the movie? Would the story be as compelling without the level of violence that is shown? Does violence and other mature content have an important role in stories like this one?
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