- In the book are many scenes they cut from the film, such as the "Tale of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé", which Hazel tries to avoid having told just before their Impossible Mission because it'll demoralize, i.e. scare the crap out of, everyone concerned. Bigwig insists on hearing it, though, and so we have to listen to how El-ahrairah descends into the rabbit equivalent of Hades to confront Death as a last resort to save his besieged people. El-ahrairah gradually loses his whiskers, his tail and his ears to the Black Rabbit in futile bets, then in total desperation jumps into a well of deadly plague germs in order to carry them back to the enemy — but it won't work, as the plague is carried by fleas nesting in rabbits' ears. Finally, the Black Rabbit agrees to El-ahrairah's request simply because his persistence in remaining alive is disturbing the place of the dead. So he sends mysterious demons to terrify the enemy into submission...
- "...And that is why no rabbit who tells the tales of El-ahrairah can say what kind of creatures they [the enemy] were or what they looked like. Not one of them has ever been seen, from that day to this."
- Just about every one of Fiver's visions, Bigwig's encounter with the Shining Wire, and the poisoning of the Sandleford Warren, to name a few. The film tends toward either short and surreal (the visions and flashbacks) or realistic and gritty (all the violence portrayed in the present tense), while the book has longer descriptions. Pick your poison, and know this stuff can be disturbing to more than just kids.
- When Bigwig calls Hyzenthlay up to his burrow, her initial response is hauntingly similar to a sex slave. "If you want a doe you can have her, and no one is allowed to stop you" takes on a horrible new tone.
- To the Efrafa rabbits the fact that Bigwig isn't the chief is one, due to the assumption that somehow there is a rabbit bigger and more badass than Bigwig out there.
- There's something very unsettling about the rabbits' Humans Are Cthulhu ideas, mainly because even the simplest concepts are utterly incomprehensible to them. Dogs, weasels, cats, they can get those, they're predators who are bigger and stronger and have teeth and claws but are not quite as fast as rabbits, it's simple enough, but they simply lack the capacity to grasp humans. The most basic technology is beyond most of them, which is virtually a death sentence. How do you explain a trap or a snare to something that can't even grasp the concept?
- The humans would have destroyed them without a second thought. The rabbits were in the way, that's all the humans cared about.
- The whole concept of the Warren of the Shining Wires. These rabbits have all the food they can eat, and the human hunts the predators that would normally eat them, but he demands a price: every so often he sets his snare and takes one of those rabbits for dinner. And the rabbits know full well what's happening, but they continue to frequent the regions where the human sets his snares because they know that if they left, or even steered clear of the regions where snares were to be found, the human would stop putting out food for them and protecting them and they would have to live by their wits like El-hrairah once again.
- And on top of that, there are the poets. In other warrens, these would have been leaders like Hazel, or prophets like Fiver, but according to Fiver, living with the secret of the wires has driven them insane, and now they make mad songs to try to pretend that they have not sold their souls, nor given up the very essence of rabbithood with this bargain. They even teach that it's dignified and noble for a rabbit to await death with stoicism.
- Especially disturbing once you put yourself in the shoes of a prey species like rabbits. Humans don't have any natural predators, we're occasional victims to bears, wolves, lions, etc, but it's usually too much trouble, especially since humans make a point of killing man-eaters, but imagine being a rabbit, who's only advantage in the world is their speed. And then, miraculously, there's a Safe Zone Hope Spot, where you will never have to be afraid of a fox or a weasel or a dog ever again, and all the Human asks in return is a life every now and then. You'd lose far more in the wild anyway, so what's the big deal? See, humans aren't very fast or very strong, they're persistance hunters, they can keep going long after you've gotten too tired to run anymore. So why bother chasing you around? You'll come here anyway, where it's safe and warm, and you'll have all the food you can eat. And all it costs is turning yourself into a willing meal. We got the wolves and the lions to join us, you think we can't get you too?
Tales from Watership Down
The sequel is a compilation of short stories, some of which are rabbit folktales and some of which expand on what happened to Hazel and his companions after the first book. Some of them are comedy... and others are flat-out Cosmic Horror
- "The Story of the Comical Field": El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle find their way into a hedge maze (the titular "comical field") and wander through it before reaching the center. They take a nap, and then try and find their way out, but realize they're hopelessly lost. Not only that, but they can hear something stalking them. They panic, and begin to run, not knowing if they're heading towards a dead end- or worse, toward whatever the thing in the maze is- before they collapse, exhausted. At this point, El-ahrairah turns back, and finally sees the thing that's been chasing them. This galvanizes him and Rabscuttle into finding the last of their strength, and when they run through a nearby hole, they see the way out, which they realize they overlooked earlier (or did the exit move?). They escape, and somehow realize that the thing in the maze wasn't going to follow them. We never find out what it was.
In afteryears El-ahrairah would never describe what he saw, and only once did he ever speak of it. This was when some rabbit once said to him, "But you saw and talked with the Black Rabbit of Inle. How could this be worse?"
"The Black Rabbit," replied El-ahrairah, "inspired a terrible, indescribable awe: helplessness and the fear of endless darkness. But he is not wicked, evil or cruel." And not a word more would he say.
- "The Hole in the Sky": El-ahrairah hears about something called the "Hole in the Sky", and sets out to find out what it is. On his journey, he's attacked by a predator, and manages to fight it off, but he's badly wounded, and begins hallucinating from pain. After several days of agony, he stumbles, he looks up at the sky, and finally sees the Hole... only it's not really a hole at all. It's a giant wound ripped in the sky, with flies crawling on it. A rabbit corpse falls out of it, and disappears in mid-fall. Even worse, it's moving and descending toward him. He panics, falls down a hill, and passes out. When he wakes up, he's feeling better, and hears the voice of Frith telling him to take it easy. El-ahrairah asks him why he allows something as horrible as the Hole to exist, but Frith tells him it was just a hallucination. El-ahrairah starts to ask him how the other rabbit had the same hallucination, but Frith just tells him not to talk about it, because rabbits who've seen it won't want to and rabbits who haven't won't understand.
- "The Terrible Hay-Making" manages to be chilling without any EldritchAbominations at all. A warren of rabbits have settled near a farmhouse, and have begun making a nuisance of themselves, eating everything in the garden that they can and scratching bark off the cherry trees. El-ahrairah warns them that the humans are going to notice and go after them, but they refuse to listen. Then they kill one of the farmers' daughter's pet cats in cold blood (described in graphic detail), and the farmers corner the rabbits and beat and shoot all of them to death.
Yes it's a U-rated film (or G-rated, if you're Americannote
), but the movie is very disturbing and does raise questions of "How is this appropriate for children
?" and "Why do people think this is for kids just because it has bunnies in it?" Some examples include:
- The rabbit Creation Myth, while gently cartoonish if slightly surreal, takes on a sinister edge when Frith gives several animals predatory instincts. At their ravenous touch, the rabbits turn red and fall limp. Sir Michael Hordern's narration then notes El-ahrairah's sudden fear of the Black Rabbit of Death. A huge, silhouetted rabbit, with fearsome mouth and glowing amber eyes, glides swiftly forth.
- The story starts off very whimsical and sweet with the cutesy animals embracing and eating together. Even when El-ahrairah acts selfishly it seems set up to be a simple parable about pride and sharing...only instead for all the cute creatures to suddenly take on sinister feral designs and start killing the rabbits. Even El-ahrairah's solace has himself take on a colder design, left fending for his life against his demonic former friends.
- Fiver's vision at the beginning of the film is terrifying. "The field...it's covered with blood!"
- The music that plays during that scene does not help at all.
- Cowslip's warren. It's a nice little place with good food and shelter, but then Cowslip does some creepy rambling about the Black Rabbit. Turns out that the warren is near a farm that leaves the food in order to fatten and trap the rabbits.
- The latter scenario is further supported by the succeeding scene of Bigwig almost choking to death in the snare, which is portrayed extremely graphically and realistically and in line with the novel's depiction of it, with blood and frothing spittle pouring from his mouth as he struggles to breathe. It's a horrific scene, and one of the movie's most iconic images, considering the fact the director chose to depict it right front and center in the movie's poster, albeit with Bigwig framed entirely in shadow, to subtly let those coming to see the film that it was most certainly not going to be a fun, family-friendly experience.
- The flashback to the gassing of the warren, with the glowing-eyed rabbits crammed into the tunnels clawing each other, trying to get out of tunnels that only narrow and spiral into dead ends. Holocaust parallels, anyone?
- Holly appearing to tell the rabbits about it. The first the rabbits and the audience hear of him, he is moaning, "Zorn, zorn!note Bigwig, Bigwig!" Bigwig immediately assumes it's the Black Rabbit of Inlé, until Holly drags himself to the edge and falls into the ditch they're in, completely battered and moaning, "All zorn!" We don't know who did this to him, until Holly tells the rabbits of his time in Efrafa.
- Crossing with Tear Jerker, Hazel getting shot at Nuthanger Farm, spawning the Bright Eyes sequence.
- The disturbing parallells between Efrafa and Nazi Germany - or any fascist state.
- In the novel, Blackavar survives the climatic battle with the Efrafans. Here? Not so. He stays behind in an attempt to stall General Woundwort, only for him to easily swat him down and tear out his throat in an extremely graphic manner. Even for its standards, this is definitely the single most violent scene in the whole film, and thats saying a lot.
- The brutal fight between Bigwig and Woundwort gives many unnerving shots of both severely wounded rabbits...
- During this, it cuts in the middle of the fight to Hazel and the runners leading Bob the dog to Watership Down. It then cuts suddenly to this◊ no less!
- Bob arriving and mutilating the Efrafan soldiers. Before attacking Woundwort, hes seen rising up from the ridge with a mangled bloody Efrafan bunny in his jaws...
- When Woundwort attacks Bob, if you're watching on YouTube, pause at the right time and Woundwort will look like something out of your worst nightmares (pictured).
- The music that plays is definitely a bit unnerving...
- The Black Rabbit is no hallucination, but he's not evil.
- The rats that attack the rabbits while they're sleeping in a shed.
- When Tab the cat pounces on Hazel, and actually speaks (in the film, she's the only creature other than Kehaar to speak to the rabbits) as Hazel struggles in terror and expectation of death:
- Fortunately, Lucy, the farmer's daughter, speaks up and tells Tab to let him go, to which she complies.