Tag Archives: animated film

My thoughts on: Watership Down (1978)

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For a long time the only thing I knew about Watership Down was the book written by Richard Adams in 1972. I did my best to read my mom’s battered copy, but it was a very long story and I quickly lost interest. Fast forward a number of years and I was delighted to discover a movie version of the story existed! The film simplified the story considerably and it’s remained a favorite of mine for many years.

Watership Down, to put it simply, is a story about rabbits. Author Richard Adams created an entire rabbit language and culture and it’s so thoroughly put together that by the end of the story you kind of believe that these things about rabbits are really true, but I digress…in the story, we primarily follow a group of rabbits led by Hazel and his runt brother Fiver. The latter has this gift of seeing things before they happen, and one evening he has a vision that something terrible will happen to their warren. While most of the rabbits don’t believe a word Fiver says, Hazel believes his brother and convinces a small group to leave the warren and find a new home.

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Finding a new home (the titular Watership Down as it becomes known in the book) takes up most of the story and it’s far from easy. The rabbits travel across the countryside, evading dogs, busy roads, a weird warren of rabbits led by Cowslip and most importantly, the overcrowded warren of Efrafa led by General Woundwort. The film, though animated, does not shy away from revealing how graphically dangerous the journey is. For example, one female rabbit is snatched by a hawk; Bigwig is nearly strangled to death in bloody fashion by a snare; and in Efrafa, we see numerous examples of how rabbits are punished for breaking the rules (getting scratched up and having their ears torn up). Watership Down is one of those films that on the outside looks like an ordinary children’s film but it really deals with some extremely adult topics (lucky for me I didn’t see the film until I was in my teens).

The story isn’t ALL dark, some wonderful comic relief is provided by the seagull Kehaar (Zero Mostel in his final role). The rabbits befriend him when they discover him by their new warren with a damaged wing. He helps them rescue a lot of rabbits from Efrafa in the climax of the story before returning to his “big water” (the ocean).

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Another character I must talk about is the fearsome General Woundwort. He’s the biggest rabbit you’ll ever see (in fact the book implies he’s more hare than rabbit, and yes there is a difference). Woundwort rules Efrafa with an iron paw and won’t allow any rabbits to leave, despite legitimate complaints that there is simply no room for kittens (baby rabbits) to be born. When the Watership Down rabbits successfully rescue a large group of Efrafans, Woundwort goes on the warpath and leads his rabbit soldiers to take ‘his’ rabbits back. The depths of Woundwort’s madness can be seen in his final moments: Hazel has contrived to lead a dog to the down, knowing that it will hunt down or chase away all the Efrafans (his people are safely underground in the burrows where the dog can’t get to them). As the Efrafans run for their lives, Woundwort appears and shouts “Come back you fools, come back and fight, dogs aren’t dangerous!” Any rabbit with common sense would know that dogs are very dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Not only does Woundwort claim this ISN’T the case but his last act is to charge straight at the dog!

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While I wouldn’t recommend showing this film to children under the age of 10, it is a good film to watch if you like stories about adventure with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. There’s a wonderful song, “Bright Eyes” sung by Art Garfunkel halfway through the story while Fiver searches for Hazel after an expedition to add female rabbits to the warren goes wrong. It’s a great interlude in the action.

All in all, Watership Down is a great film and one that everyone should see at least once. What did you think of Watership Down? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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Animated Film Reviews

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Disturbing Don Bluth: An Introduction

So for the past number of months I have been regaling you with tales of ‘Disturbing Disney’, finding the most disturbing Disney film moments I can remember and breaking them down in minute detail. Rest assured I have no plans of ending that series anytime soon (in fact I’m making plans to turn that series into a book, though that won’t come to pass for a while), but given how I still feel under the weather today, I thought I would take some time to introduce the subject of Disturbing Disney’s sister series: Don Bluth.

If you found any part of Disturbing Disney remotely disturbing or messed up, believe me when I say, you’ve seen NOTHING yet. It dawned on me somewhere around entry #10 that Don Bluth would require a series all his own to highlight the psychological torture he unwittingly put me through as a child.

For those who may not have seen the..imaginative…works of Don Bluth, allow me to make introductions. Don Bluth is, to be fair, a talented animator who originally worked for Disney, his first job as an assistant on Sleeping Beauty (1959). He returned to Disney full time in the 1970s and worked on Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers and he directed the animation for Pete’s Dragon. Not long after this, Bluth took 9 fellow Disney animators and set off to start his own animation studio, one that he hoped would rival Disney itself. Bluth was frustrated with how Disney was run at the time, and he wanted to revive the traditional animation that originally made Disney films famous.

Starting with The Secret of NIMH in 1982, Bluth directed a series of films that, though spectacularly animated, became the stuff of nightmares for children all over the world. And the biggest reason for this is due to Bluth’s philosophy on film: Bluth believed that children were capable of witnessing just about anything onscreen so long as the story had a happy ending that (in theory) cancelled out the previous trauma. In other words, Bluth wanted to go in directions that the Disney studio would not, considering that way ‘too dark.’

Disturbing Don Bluth will break down each of Bluth’s major films, all of which are full to the brim of Disturbing moments that, I assure you, will make Disturbing Disney look TAME by comparison. This series will look at films such as:

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

An American Tail (1986)

The Land Before Time (1988)

All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Thumbelina (1994)

That may seem like a short list, but in those films is contained more disturbing moments then I can count. For example, you’ll hear about how a young dinosaur nearly drowns in tar, a mouse is terrorized by a sea monster, a dog has a vivid nightmare of Hell (demons included) and one of the most traumatizing “death of a mother” scenes that I can remember (with one heck of a secret behind it).

I hope to be starting on this series very soon, and Disturbing Disney will also continue. I’m already feeling much better, so hopefully by Monday I will be able to resume a regular blogging schedule.

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