Watership Down Essay, Research Paper
Richard Adams’ book was a favorite of mine growing up, probably because it had all the magic and excitement of the best fairy tales, but it also portrayed the natural world well naturally. I believed in the rabbits and the crazy seagull that helped them, and I learned to appreciate the value and beauty of creation by concentrating on the plight and peril of these poor creatures in a vast and dangerous world.
These were not “bunnies”, sentimentalized furballs cavorting about and singing songs. These were characters with the weight of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Hazel is a troubled and reluctant leader, drawn to a desperate quest by his friend, the weakling called Fiver, who suffers horrific visions that soon the rabbits’ community will be destroyed by humankind. With the help of a brusque and burly soldier rabbit named Bigwig, they round up a group who of rabbits who believe in them and flee their warren, leaving behind them most of the community skeptical and laughing at them.
On the road, they encounter a world of dangers, perhaps none more fearsome than other rabbits who have different customs. One particular warren seems to be happy on the edges of a farm, fed by a farmer. This spooks a few of Hazel’s gang, and when their suspicions prove true, it is a terrifying revelation indeed.
And that’s only the first half of the journey.
The second half becomes a tense, suspenseful quest to add females to their group, so they can start a new home when they settle into their destination. The only way available to them, it seems, is to steal them from another warren. And fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for them, there are some females suffering in a cruel, military state warren not far away. This leads them out into the dangerous world again, pitting their wits against the strength and cruel tactics of General Woundwort, a villain as memorable and ferocious as Darth Vader.
As a child, I identified with the vulnerable heroes as they sought to find their place in the world. As a grownup, I am drawn into the mythology that Adams has created here, the compelling dramas that echo historical conflicts in fascist states, and the uncanny knack he has for suspense. A lot of this is effectively preserved in the film, as our heroes attempt to free the enslaved, oppressed females from the regimented society called Efrafa.
And so, like C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Watership Down is a story I love to share with friends of any age. The film is exceptional in that it stays relatively true to the strengths of the novel. It simply tells a story, and tells it beautifully, engagingly, and creatively, without oversimplifying or editing things to make it more of a traditional crowdpleaser. That gives it the advantage over Disney’s entire animated catalogue, in my book.
The animation is strikingly realistic and detailed; I don’t mean realistic in the way digital animation can be realistic. It’s jittery in places, much like Japanese animation. But that’s because it’s handpainted. And in its respect for the grace, color, and natural behavior of the countryside and of rabbits, it is clear the animators knew their subject. This is entirely appropriate. Adams himself was fascinated by the creatures, and wrote an introduction to a book called “The Private Life of the Rabbit.”
Angela Morley’s music is a little-known treasure, a compelling adventure soundtrack with memorable themes and a melodic quality that makes it an outstanding work in its own right, more elegant even than the romantic themes of John Williams.
And the voices are well chosen. From John Hurt to Zero Mostel, they suit the characters perfectly. Mostel is especially good, bringing attitude and energy to the crucial character of the injured gull, Keehar, who helps the rabbits navigate.
The movie suffers only from its own ambitious undertaking. Watership Down is a lengthy novel, and to include everything would make for a cumbersome film. The writers have adapted the book admirably, trimming here and there while maintaining the integrity of the story. As a result, there are some abrupt transitions between chapters, but only fans of the book will notice the bumps.