WATERSHIP DOWN (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

Posted: 11/01/2010 in Brit Flick, The Verdict
Tags: , , , , ,

WATERSHIP DOWN  (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

 Typically and perhaps misguidedly promoted as a children’s film, presumably because it’s an animation featuring rabbits; but that is where the Disney similarity ends. There is real darkness in this film, beyond the ‘mild peril’ of Pixar or the sad -but-not-shocking demise of Bambi’s ever-cited mother. You don’t even need to scratch the surface to reveal a seething pit of misogyny and deeply troubling gender politics. Arguably this is typical of the late seventies moral backlash against sixties’ liberation, (although that was more of an American trait) but no matter what the rationale, if we are going to  sit children in front of these films, we need to question the messages we are exposing them to.

That said, Watership Down is known as a seminal film for a reason. The animation is idiosyncratic and distinctively stylised, with emphasis on pictorial representations of the declining British countryside. There is unapologetic moralising which is clearly lacking in some of the more lightweight animations produced subsequently, though the conservationist point is slegdehammered in towards the end. This is definitely an instance where I’d advise watching with children on first viewing as, violence and atypical quantities of gore aside, there’s certainly plenty of content they may not understand. Fiver’s fits and visions can be frightening and the totalitarianism the pilgrim rabbits encounter could well be bewildering to children raised in liberal democracies (such as they may be).

So, while accessible to children, this is a film I’d strongly recommend to adults. I didn’t see Watership Down till I was in my twenties, though most of my peers had encountered it in childhood and I still took a lot from it. For older viewers there is far more to be read in terms of allegory and criticisms of political regimes and rampant ‘progress’ (in this case industrialisation.)

Some of the soapboxing may be a little hard to swallow and the inherent attitude to women is troubling, but overall this is a strong film and a welcome variation to the sanitised dross often delivered under the rubric of ‘family movie’.

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