UK Animated Movie (1978). Nepenthe. Pr Martin Rosen. Dir John Hubley, Rosen. Anim dir Tony Guy. Screenplay Rosen. Based on Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams. Novelization The Watership Down Film Picture Book * (1978) by Adams. Voice actors Joss Ackland (Black Rabbit), Richard Briers (Fiver), Michael Graham-Cox (Bigwig), Michael Hordern (Frith/Narrator), John Hurt (Hazel). 92 mins. Colour.
In the beginning there was the great god Frith, the Sun, who made the world and its creatures; to all except the rabbit was given the wish to kill the rabbit, whose gifts were instead speed and Trickster cunning. Thus goes rabbit Mythology, which, illuminated by stylized animation, prefaces WD. In the present, the animation switching to a more pastel treatment, the rabbit Hazel attends his psychic Ugly-Duckling brother Fiver's forecasts of doom for the warren; they and Bigwig lead a small band off to find somewhere new – the Watership Down of Fiver's dreams. Long after, Watership Down reached and settled, an aged Hazel gladly accepts the summons of the rabbitish Death-figure, the Black Rabbit, to join the warren of the dead.
WD makes a surprisingly good fist of presenting Adams's bestselling fantasy on screen – especially since (a) this was Rosen's first attempt at an animated movie (in 1982 he used a similar team of voice actors for his animated version of Adams's The Plague Dogs ), and (b) he took over the direction midway, John Hubley having resigned angrily. The animation is sometimes mediocre, but generally good and sometimes more; the rabbit mythology/cosmogony is fascinating, and the figure of the Black Rabbit, done in prehistoric-cave-painting style with a simplified Mask for a face, has power. However, WD lacks impact: the contraction of Adams's epic novel to a 92min movie renders the plot formless-seeming; the cast-list is overlong for any hope of audience identification; and WD, despite graphic incidents along the way, is devoid of overall drama. [JG]