Watership Down

Critics Consensus

Aimed at adults perhaps more than children, this is a respectful, beautifully animated adaptation of Richard Adams' beloved book.

82%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 34

86%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 33,892
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Movie Info

Unique in the annals of animated films, Watership Down is a serious, even grim tale that many will find relentless and depressing and others will find poetic and moving. It doesn't pull any punches. Death -- violent, disturbing death -- is ever present, portrayed in a manner that is astonishingly honest for a cartoon. As a result, it is that rare animated film that really aims for a mature audience, despite its superficial funny animal trappings. It has a brilliant opening, most likely created by UPA veteran John Hubley, which in a primitive and simplistic style relates a creation myth as told by rabbits. The style changes thereafter, with beautiful watercolor backgrounds and a more natural approach to character animation. Unfortunately, the animation suffers somewhat from this point, becoming a bit sloppy, although it continues to portray the characters' movements as realistically as possible. The character designs themselves are rather too similar, with the result that it is sometimes difficult to tell the various rabbits apart. The story is also sometimes told in too-broad strokes, leaving those unfamiliar with the novel confused as to exactly what has happened and, more importantly, why. However, these flaws are redeemed by some unforgettable sequences, including a chilling segment detailing the destruction of the rabbits' warren and a devastatingly sad end sequence in which the Black Rabbit of Death gently takes one of the heroes away with it. Voiced by a fine cast, with stellar work from John Hurt and Richard Briers, Watership Down is an imperfect film with some of the most powerful moments ever created for the genre. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Watership Down

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (3)

  • A rare movie that keeps kids on the edge of their chairs without inducing in their parents an overwhelming desire to escape theirs for a smoke in the lobby.

    Sep 4, 2008 | Full Review…
  • A brief spark of imagination survives in a prologue sequence, designed by the great John Hubley before he was fired from the film. The rest is blandness.

    Sep 3, 2008 | Full Review…
  • The 'camera' takes a conventionally objective viewpoint, perpetually rolling over rolling countryside, which effectively robs the plot of all its terror and tension.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • I love the book and I think... that this is a worthy adaptation.

    Feb 21, 2019 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…
  • The movie is the antithesis of the modern standard, plodding and patient, unbothered by flashy bright images or relentless comical interludes.

    Sep 28, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Although this is an animated film featuring cute rabbits as the main characters, this is far from a children's movie, and considering the violence and horror to be found in this film, it is rather surprising that the MPAA passed it with a PG rating.

    Mar 27, 2015 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Watership Down

  • Jan 03, 2016
    It's as good as an adaptation of Adams' novel as we are likely to get, blending the hopeful fable elements with the moments of bleak violence pretty well. Bound to continue to traumatize generations of children for years to come.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 26, 2013
    The animation genre is the most enduring genre for lighthearted family entertainment. With their colorful visuals and freely imaginative world this sort of escapism is the main reason Watership Down is not recognized as a classic. It's not a lighthearted or cheery family film of any sort one simply just sit back and view. It's more of a reflection on yourself and the nature of the living world. Not only it is a significant piece of animation tackling real world issues, but also carries an uncommonly powerful emotional weight for such an unlikely group of character. Watership Down is about a group of rabbits fleeing their doomed warren and facing many dangers to find and protect their new home. The premise despite sounding like it's aimed at children does not seccumb to downplaying its premise. It even goes as far as tackling sadism, fascism, and creationism into the mix. Telling a mature story with an adult delivery. The plot is very dark more so than you might expect. It explores the subject of death and survival as we experience the dangerous and tragic journey with our rabbits. The rabbits are constantly fighting against their environment for a better home. What would have simply been a plot point in another film can be linked to how society breaks down, debate between those who want freedom from the old ways, and those who still cling on to it with power. On the surface it's an effective film about survival with relatable characters regardless of the species difference. Underneath it is level of depth that gives the film a far more rewarding intellectual experience. Martin's Rosen direction for the film is flawless. The animation employs richly detailed hazy watercolor backdrops with naturalistic colors to the characters that inhabit it. This creates a sense of a realism into the world fitting into the mood it presents. One of the biggest highlights is the divine music combined with the Aztec style animations as Fiver tries to find Hazel, a simultaneous mixture of uplifting and depressing feel. This one scene will leave you lost for words. The voice talent on offer ranging from Denholm Elliot to Richard Briers is nothing short of perfect. The voice actor portray their roles with such dedication that the fact they're talking animals won't bother you and in the case of Harry Andrews he comes off as menacing as General Woundwort despite voicing a rabbit. Going off topic I already feel I made my point by now on what makes Watership Down an under-appreciated masterpiece. Bold statement I know to call such an unknown film a masterpiece, but here's another reason why I personally see it that way. Often the first thing that goes to anyone mind when it comes to animation is Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Studio Ghibli, and so many other studios. It's mostly the cheering and family friendly feature that are most fondly remembered by their audiences. As with the case with many of these film the message delivery contains a simple execution, bright colors, and a single moral around it. That's where Watership Down stands out from the pack. It's more gritty, not afraid to frighten to kids, and show kids the more complicated dilemma of the world the way they are. I hold a belief that kids can handle anything you throw at them so long you provide a ending with your story. The ending here is bittersweet, but the last images that play out is one of an enlighten mood of outcome. Watership Down is a masterpiece that best represent animation and goes beyond what is expected of such a genre. From a dramatic standpoint it is tragic, uplifting, inspirational, and bittersweet. Even if you don't read into the depths of it plot it holds moving story about survival. Containing themes and character relatable present in everyday life. Making Watership Down one of the significant film animated films in in all of film making.
    Caesar M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 11, 2012
    Watership Down has a creative ending, and intense climax, but is just so utterly confusing for a film with such a simple overall story. The film has its moments of beauty and is refreshingly dark for a movie about bunnies, but it is little fun, and the animation is a bit lifeless. I did, however, enjoy the dark overtones and brutalness displayed throughout, I just wish it all came together in a more powerful way. Overall Rating: 61
    Bradley J Super Reviewer
  • Jan 30, 2012
    I saw this in my childhood and it was too bloody for me. I did not fully appreciate it until I grew older. Now I think it is a masterpiece and very well-made in every way. The rabbit characters are personified and full of life. My favorites were Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver.
    Dannielle A Super Reviewer

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