Being a responsible parent: Watership Down
This series is in no way me procrastinating and avoiding finishing the Halloween series. Honest.
For those of you that don’t know, I’ve recently entered the world of parenthood. So, the other day, I was standing perusing my DVD collection and noting the quite impressive amount of completely inappropriate material present there. We’re not talking one or two films that you wouldn’t show to a nipper, by the way, we’re talking only one or two films that you would feel comfortable with a child watching. This got me to thinking, and given that I’ve been quite patronising on my censorship series about crap parenting, about films I saw as a kid and whether or not I’d feel comfortable showing them to Finn. Fair enough, he’s only 5 months old so isn’t really aware of what’s on screen (accidental trauma caused by a viewing of Alien notwithstanding) but I was thinking, genuinely, what would I be happy with him watching? So, what I’m going to attempt here is a quick tongue in cheek look at some “Children’s classics” (most of which are not classic in the slightest, by the way) that I saw when young, and would I happily sit him down in front of it while I went to the pub. First up is beloved Children’s animation and not at all traumatic fascism analogy Watership Down.
First up, look at that lying bastard of a DVD cover. This is not a film about lovely bunnies and comical seagull go on a picnic. If I was wanting to think of a way to completely mislead you about the content of a film, then I struggle to do better than this. And look at that rating! U! The lowest there is. There’s no fucking way that Watership Down should be less than a PG.
Anyhoo, on with the review.
Opening with a trippy prologue about God punishing the rabbits for greed, and bestowing the title Prince of 1000 enemies on El-ahrairah, there’s already something deeply suspect happening. Still, it then moves to the English countryside, where weirdo shaky rabbit Fiver is having visions of a gruesome apocalypse heading their way. The film then charts their journey through obstacles aplenty to the mythical paradise of Watership Down. Along the way, they fight off humans, evil rabbits, commie bastard rabbits, unsubtle ethnic cleansing analogies, the frankly horrible General Woundwort, meet up with a comical seagull, and the even worse Art Garfunkel song.
Oh, and if this doesn’t make you cry when you’re a kid, then you’ve got a heart of stone.
Everything. I can’t think of a single change I’d make to this film. Even the Art Garfunkel song doesn’t suck balls, although it is a touch manipulative.
Watership Down is a stone cold, nailed down, bet your house on it classic. The voice cast is stupendous, the animation is wonderfully appropriate for the material, and the story, dialogue and everything else are stunning.
The trippy opening prologue sets the tone, and when Fiver’s vision happens it’s a real shot to the guts- all of a sudden it leaps out at you that this might not be the fluffy story about cute bunnies gambolling around an idyllic English countryside that the cover may have lead you to expect. At turns funny, scary and exciting, Watership Down is arguably the definitive British Animation.
And the book by Richard Adams that it’s based on is even better.
As with above: Nothing. It’s a product of its time, sure, but I honestly don’t think it has dated at all.
Parental Advice from the Authorities.
This should be a gimme, really. It’s a cartoon about rabbits, for fuckssakes, how bad can it be. Well, let’s see what the censor says: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/what-classification/u
Hmm. Should be fine, eh? Doesn’t get softer than a U. I would, before I start on the next bit, however, like to note this:
Violence will generally be very mild. A U film may include brief fight scenes or moments where characters are placed in danger. However, moments of emotional stress or threat will be quickly resolved and the outcome will be reassuring.
There may be brief scary scenes and moments where the characters are placed in danger. As with violence, however, these scenes will be balanced by reassuring elements, such as comic interludes or music.
‘Baddie’ characters may carry or use weapons, but there will be no emphasis on these. Child or ‘hero’ characters are unlikely to use any kind of weapon outside, for example, historical settings.
Er, what? You lying bastards. Violence will be generally very mild? In Watership Down? Getthefuckouttahere with that. Only someone that hasn’t seen it could possibly hold that opinion. When Bigwig faces off against the evil General there’s blood and gore aplenty as the rabbits rip each other to shreds. The whole film contains some of the most graphic and traumatic violence to anthropomorphised animals ever fucking filmed. Moreover, there’s nothing cartoonish about this violence- it’s not a rabbit whacking another rabbit on the head with a rubber mallet- this is nature red in tooth and claw.
Basically, Bugs Bunny, this ain’t.
Furthermore, the body count is actually astonishingly high. No rabbit is safe here, and major characters that you would think would be protected are put in severe risk. Some even die (albeit for a plot contrivance).
Watership Down is a surprisingly adult film, it deals with big issues (Death is omnipresent here), and the analogy may be as subtle as a fascist jackboot to the balls, but it’s there, present and correct and coherently set out.
It’s worth noting 2 points: Firstly, Stephen King, the master of horror himself, rates the novel as one of the greatest horror novels ever written, and the BBFC still receive complaints about the rating to this day- and that’s despite the fact that Watership Down is an inordinately famous film.
Watership Down, essentially, is not a kids film.
Watership Down is childhood trauma in action. Fucking traumatised me, anyway, and the end still makes Mrs. Jarv cry. Having said that, I believe that no childhood is complete without being completely devastated by Watership Down, so yeah, he gets to watch it.
It’s a proper Trojan Horse of a movie, this one. Superficially gentle, in reality harsher than wanking in sandpaper.
Still, nevertheless, Watership Down is a classic, and it’s definitively worth watching for both adults and children. Yes, it’s brutal, yes, it’s scary for nippers, and yes the ending is deeply sad, but the fact that a nigh on 40 year old British Animation is still able to provoke such visceral responses from adults and children suggests that what we have here should be considered to be one of the great films of the period. People still talk about Bambi’s mother kicking it, but that never provoked anywhere near the reaction in me that Adams’ parable did.
This is a stonking film, and one of the greatest and most traumatic childhood cinematic experiences. It’s achieved legendary status here, and even mentioning it will provoke a response with everyone naming a section and the qualifier “that fucked me right up”.
I genuinely can’t recommend this film enough, and for a quick taster, I’ve discovered that some pervert has set the worst bits of it to Lux Aeterna from Requiem for a Dream. Ugh.