Friday, 24 June 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 8 - Watership Down

#93 - Watership Down:

Ah the infamous film that resulted in hundreds of children suffering from nightmares and anxiety because of parents assuming it was kid-friendly. My dad even dropped a bombshell that he showed it to me and my brother when I was five years old. I have no memory of that so I don’t know whether or not I got traumatised by this movie too. Anyway, you see the rabbits on the poster? Yep, this film is about them. And no, it is not 100% kid friendly just because it’s about animals. This is probably one of the most graphic animated films ever made and it actually was made for children, if you can believe that. Let’s get started then.

The story follows a group of rabbits – Hazel, Bigwig, Dandelion, Blackberry, Silver, Pipkin, Violet and Fiver – the last of whom has a vision of their home warren being destroyed. The rabbits decide to leave and journey in search of a new home. Now being rabbits, they have a lot of natural enemies such as dogs, foxes, hawks and cats among other things. The first part of the film deals with the rabbits’ adventures as they search for their new home. The second part revolves around the rabbits trying to rescue some other rabbits from the tyrannical-run warren of Efrafa in the hopes of finding does to populate their new home.

If you grew up in the 90s then chances are you also watched The Animals Of Farthing Wood which is quite similar to this in that it doesn’t sugar coat the animals’ lives. These are creatures who are hunted every day for food and risk getting shot by farmers whenever they wander into human land so it is good that the film portrays a realistic story about the rabbits’ lives. It makes for a pretty epic story as the anyone can die mantra does add a sense of not knowing if the rabbits are going to make it to their new home, especially with all the dangers they encounter on their journey. And the final battle against the Efrafa rabbits is also quite exciting to watch, and remember this is a film aimed at children. Well, the books were for children anyway...

The animation of this film contrasts heavily with the Disney films which are always bright and colourful with their emphasis on cuteness. The animation is pretty simple and a little dull in appearance which shows how bleak the story is. The film opens with a prologue done in Aboriginal-style art, explaining the mythology the rabbits have and another couple of scenes take on a more surreal style of animation. Sadly the rabbits aren’t given much to distinguish themselves from each other so I was actually confused as to which character was who (is that racist, saying that all rabbits look alike?) though there are some subtle differences. The good rabbits are given red eyes to distinguish them from the Efrafa rabbits with their blue eyes, in a nice little twist on the whole red eyes=evil theme. Even there are good blue-eyed rabbits in the film just in case people want to draw racism parallels here.

The film does have a pretty good voice cast. The only known voice actor in this would be John Hurt, who voices Hazel. The rest of the actors do a pretty good job, especially the man who voices the terrifying General Woundwort  and he definitely helped along a few kids’ nightmares (well that and the blood, the blood probably helped). The young Fiver is also equally creepy with all his visions adding a different kind of fear to the film. The main female Hyzenthlay also provides a nice contrast to the rest of the male cast. Another familiar voice I found was Michael Hordern voicing the great Lord Frith. I recognise his voice from a lot of audio books I listened to as a kid and he has the perfect voice for a rabbit deity (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say).

I might as well get to the scene that everyone knows about – Hazel tries to rescue some does from a farm but gets shot by the farmer. Fiver runs after him in hopes of saving him from the Black Rabbit of Inle (the rabbit version of the Grim Reaper) and this leads into a surreal sequence set to the song “Bright Eyes” by Art Garfunkel, recorded specifically for this film. It’s a bit trippy when you’re not expecting it but it is beautiful animation.
Other good scenes in this include the creepy story told by Captain Holly about how the home warren got destroyed and how he had to climb over the other rabbits’ bodies to escape. As mentioned above, the final battle with the Efrafa rabbits is one of the most epic scenes from a kids’ movie you’ll ever find.

Now for some criticisms because I do have a few; as mentioned above the rabbits aren’t really that distinguishable from each other and it is hard to tell who’s who when they aren’t speaking. When I first watched it, I had no idea which rabbit got shot at the farm. There’s also very little character development between the lesser rabbits which is an obvious problem that comes from compressing a long book into a 90-minute film. Then there’s a pretty random moment where Bigwig decides to let a fox chase him and reappears five seconds later. He then gives the other rabbits a detailed account of what happened when he really didn’t seem to have enough time for the stuff.

So anyway in spite of the above criticisms it’s still a pretty cool film. I wouldn’t recommend showing it to your kids until they are about nine or ten but I like that it doesn’t patronise the viewers and it can be enjoyed by kids and adults. It makes for a pretty epic children’s adventure and also teaches some good lessons about death and freedom, which we are all for. The parents who buy new goldfish and hamsters in hopes of convincing children that animals are immortal might want to veer away from it though. That’s it for today and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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