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Western Animation / Watership Down

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Fiver: There's something very queer about the warren this evening...
Hazel: Is it dangerous?
Fiver: It's not exactly danger, it's... oh, I don't know. Something oppressive... like thunder.
— Opening lines

A 1978 British animated film directed by Martin Rosen, adapted from the 1972 novel of the same name by Richard Adams.

Hazel (voiced by John Hurt), our protagonist, has a little brother named Fiver (Richard Briers). Fiver has horrific—and, as later events prove, accurate—visions of the destruction of their home warren at Sandleford, but Hazel can't convince their Chief Rabbit (Ralph Richardson) to pay attention to some loony runt, so he convinces a few of his friends to join him in leaving their homes to escape.

The film is notorious in Internet culture for one simple reason: it's one of the darkest, most graphic pieces of children's fiction ever animated. (Certainly, cute and innocent-looking DVD cover art like this doesn't help, but what gets us here at TV Tropes is you'd think more people would have heard of the book.) Parents of children who are bunny fans may thus wish to exercise extreme caution, as the film contains an abundance of Nightmare Fuel and unsettling moments. Oh, and it's really bloody, too. It was stamped with a U – suitable for all (basically a G in the US) – by the British Board of Film Classification; this rating has brought them much criticism since. It is also rated 12 by the IFCO in Ireland, which is definitely right for the film's tone but its U rating on the Deluxe Edition DVD looks rather jarring and not even close to the 12 rating seen next it on the disc. In 2023, the board changed the film's rating to PG, likely due to this criticism.

Tropes in this film:

  • Action Girl: Hyzenthlay plays a visible role in Holly's and Blackavar's escape attempts, and is one of the runners who lures the dog to the Down.
  • Action Survivor: All of the refugee rabbits qualify, but particularly Hazel and Bigwig, with the former getting blasted with a shotgun, and the latter getting snared and severely injured by Woundwort.
  • Actor Allusion: Hazel and Bigwig are voiced by the same actors as Aragorn and Boromir are in The Lord of the Rings which was released the same year. The characters and their relationship with each other is similar in both films. The actors in question are John Hurt and Michael Graham Cox, respectively.
  • Adaptation Distillation: It's only 91 minutes, a tearjerker, and on many best-of-animation lists. The story is more-or-less intact, though certain scenes are shortened (the hawk attack instead of the extended battle with the crows in the beanfield, for example). Likewise the narratives of Holly's escape from the destruction of the Sandleford warren and his encounter with Efrafa are merged.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The attack by rats in the barn is barely more than a Noodle Incident in the novel, but here it's depicted in full.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Of the main rabbits; Bluebell, Hawkbit, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, and Strawberry are all cut.
    • Several supporting characters from Efrafa such as Bugloss and Thethuthinnang
    • Most of the El-Ahrairah stories are cut.
  • All for Nothing: Hazel's raid on the farm becomes this in the film, as all of the hutch rabbits are captured.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Many of the rabbits are colors like light blue and pale yellow, so the audience can tell them apart more easily, and so that they fit in with names like "Silver".
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted with the dog, played straight with the bucks. Somewhat justified as rabbit genitalia is as fluffy as the rest of them and so difficult to see.
  • Answer to Prayers: A desperate Hazel pleads with the great god Frith to spare his warren from the hostile forces of General Woundwort. Hazel even offers to perish himself to make this come true. Frith responds that "There does not pass a day or a night that some honest captain of owsla [sic] does not offer his life for his chief, or a mother rabbit offer her life for her kittens. But there can be no bargain, for what is, is what must be." It's all up to Hazel now: do or die.
  • Arc Words: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince With A Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you they will kill you... but first they must catch you."
  • Art Shift: The opening myth of El-Ahrairah was animated in the Aboriginesque style of the late John Hubley, the legendary founder of Limited Animation. The main film is ultra-detailed naturalistic animation... and then you have the rabbits' horrific visions and recollections, animated by Martin Rosen in a similarly abstract style, but with gradual transitions from the real.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The Heartbeat Soundtrack is a human heartbeat, not the much faster beat of a rabbit's heart.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Seemingly attempted but ultimately averted. Holds the accolade of being the only film to be granted a U―Certificate from the BBFC to contain the words “piss off” within the dialogue. Though played straight in the US where it warrants a PG. It did, however, get a G in Canada.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Bright Eyes" was a chart-topper performed by Art Garfunkel. The music, lyrics and scene in which it is featured make it a Tear Jerker. It was a massive hit song with a filmclip which, intentionally or not, acted as a viral trailer for the film.
  • Batman Gambit: Hazel gets Kehaar to help him by keeping him around long enough to shock him that there are no does in the warren. When Kehaar brings this up, Hazel feigns ignorance, frustrating Kehaar into showing them how to get the does, doing all of the warren's work for them.
  • Big Good: Hazel, who’s the chief rabbit of the titular warren.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The rabbits manage to live happily on the warren, but Hazel dies of old age. On the other hand, Hazel peacefully crosses over into the afterlife, which is one of the main points of the story, so it's not exactly upsetting as there's a time gap between most of the film and the ending.
  • Blood from the Mouth: During the steel snare scene, actually adapted from the novel. Quite gruesome.
  • Caught in a Snare: Happens to Bigwig, who is choked by the neck by a steel cable rabbits cannot gnaw through. He is left for dead after coughing up blood and lying motionless despite his allies digging up the snare anchor. He surprisingly speaks as they lament him, calling for the death of the rabbits who did not warn them after luring them into the warren. Hell, it’s even the film poster!
  • Color-Coded Characters:
    • Played With. The rabbits with more "natural" colourings - sandy browns, greys, with no distinctive markings, etc. - are the protagonists, where the Amazing Technicolor Wildlife tend to be side characters or outright enemies. Virtually the entire warren of Efrafa seems to be filled with black rabbits.
    • The rabbits of Cowslip's warren are animated with subtle Creepy Long Arms and slightly drooping facial features. It gives them a very uncanny appearance which helps the audience to relate to they seem to the heroes.
    • The rabbit warrens themselves get a bit of this. The original warren has caves depicted in washed out colors. Cowslip's warren has garish unnatural colors like blue, purple, and orange. Efrafa is very cold and harsh, with dark grays and blacks. The only warren shown more or less naturally is that on Watership Down.
  • Composite Character:
    • Silver's personality has more in common with Hawkbit as the somewhat slow rabbit who questions Hazel's authority.
    • Cowslip is the one who recites Silverweed's poem from the book.
    • In Hazel's death scene, the role of El-Ahrairah—who invites Hazel to join his Owsla in the afterlife—is combined with the Black Rabbit, to cue the audience as to what's happening. Likewise Frith's words to Hazel when he tries to bargain his life for his people are taken from the Black Rabbit's response to El-Ahrairah when he tried to do the same.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The animated film had to streamline quite a bit of the story, otherwise it'd be hours long. It still manages to hit almost all the relevant points.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Blackavar doesn't last a second against Woundwort.
  • Darker and Edgier: An unavoidable consequence of the plot distillation; in order to fit the entire adventure plot into the runtime, many of the lighter, softer moments are cut. It can be difficult to convince people who have only ever seen the movie that the book actually has a generally hopeful tone that emphasizes the importance of kindness and compassion, despite the hardships faced by the characters. It features almost no named character deaths at all, no one with a major speaking role dies, and most of the deaths (like Nildro-Hain and Thrayonlosa) are "offscreen" and sad rather than sudden, bloody, and traumatic.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Efrafan warriors all have dark fur. Averted, however, with the Black Rabbit of Inlé, who is merely performing a necessary duty in the rabbit mythology.
  • Death by Adaptation: Blackavar is killed by Woundwort during the final battle.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Viewers not familiar with the book thought Fiver was the protagonist for much of the film, not Hazel.
  • Defiant to the End: Blackavar chooses to remain outside and face Woundwort, attacking his former chief on sight, rather than join the other rabbits inside the run the Bigwig is guarding. He gets tragically killed for his efforts, but it buys Bigwig enough time to prep an ambush.
  • Demoted to Extra: Clover and the hutch rabbits are all recaptured and none of them make it out.
  • Disguised Horror Story: Looks like a cute animated movie about rabbits...One of them has a surreal vision of the fields being covered with blood. And that's not even getting into all the Family-Unfriendly Death.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "Following the river of death downstream... or is it a dream?"
  • Don't Fear the Reaper:
    • In the novel, it was El-ahrairah who came to Hazel and asked him to join his Owsla, but oddly in the film it's clearly the Black Rabbit of Inlé who has come to claim Hazel instead, to take him to Frith and the afterlife. When Hazel looks back at his warren, the Black Rabbit says, "You needn't worry about them. They'll be all right... and thousands like them." Hazel goes willingly, and it looks like he and the Black Rabbit are eager to go exploring.
    • Add to that, after Hazel is shot, Fiver realizes Hazel is still alive... because the Black Rabbit (or possibly, Hazel's shade) appears to him and leads him to where Hazel is hiding. Terrifying as he is, the Black Rabbit is clearly a caring spirit.
  • Dramatic Irony: While the rabbits are still somewhat skeptical of Fiver's predictions of disaster for some time, as they leave the warren we get our first full glimpse of the sign that triggered his vision, which states the land is slated for upcoming development (i.e. completely demolished). Rabbits, of course, cannot read, so it's not until Captain Holly finds them some time later that Fiver's prediction is vindicated.
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: Without the actual dress, since rabbits don't wear clothes. Whereas the "heroic" rabbits are depicted as the most standard and variable in natural colors, the two warrens they encounter each have a unique look their inhabitants share:
    • The rabbits of Cowslip's Warren are all fat, red-eyed, with drooping, long, or withered features.
    • Efrafan rabbits are all darkly shaded with distinct blue shadows under their blue-green eyes.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Violet, Blackavar. Dropped a hawk / bunny on them respectively.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: A key theme of the film, right from the opening text: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince With A Thousand Enemies; and when they catch you, they will kill you."
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Woundwort again. Most of his officers, in contrast, have somewhat high, weaselly voices.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Lots of it. One of the best examples is when Woundwort tears out Blackavar's throat.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: It may be a movie about bunnies, but it's emphatically not for young children.
  • Foreshadowing: Woundwort tells Hazel that if Bigwig and the rest of the escapees aren't outside by the time his army arrives, he'll "tear out every throat in the place." Unlike the original source, Woundwort literally makes good on this threat with Blackavar.
  • Funny Foreigner: Kehaar the Gull. Overlaps with What the Hell Is That Accent?.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Film only, and they have a fun way of inverting the Red Eyes, Take Warning subtrope. All the heroes have reddish eyes — they're rabbits after all. And we get so used to this over the course of the film that the minute we see the Efrafan rabbits' blue eyes, we sense something sinister about them.
  • Gorn: A shocking amount of it in an animated movie (of the time). Gets particularly egregious when Bigwig is choking to death in the snare, when Woundwort kills Blackavar and fights Bigwig, and when the dog attacks the Efrafans; those rabbits unfortunate enough to be caught are torn asunder or simply shredded.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The movie largely averts this, with all the Family Unfriendly Deaths. But in the case of General Woundwort, we never get to see what happens after he leaps towards the dog with an open maw. This way, it‘s ambiguous whether or not he survived the fight.
  • Guile Hero: Hazel’s no warrior, but he's the hero due to his ability to bring the other rabbits together and think his way out of dangerous situations.
  • Hair-Raising Hare: The very page image depicts General Woundwort.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The "Bright Eyes" sequence gives way to this, to indicate that Hazel is alive inside the culvert.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: To the eyes of the rabbits, humans are incomprehensible, incredibly powerful entities, capable of destroying an entire warren with casual ease and barely even noticing them in the process. Even when the rabbits don't recognize something as human-made, they are usually quick to realize how far beyond them it is: for instance, perceiving a train as an entity of divine punishment.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: All of the Efrafans have these.
  • Internal Reveal: We all know Hazel’s the Chief Rabbit of the titular Warren, but Woundwort always thought it was Bigwig instead until the latter told him, causing Woundwort to reply in confusion assuming there’s a bigger and stronger rabbit than Bigwig that he most likely wouldn’t stand with, given the equal match between Bigwig and Woundwort.
  • Ironic Echo: When Tab the cat first sees Hazel and Pipkin at the farm, Hazel taunts her by asking "Can you run?" with him replying "I think not". She later taunts a pinned and helpless Hazel with "Can you run? I think not... I think not..."
  • Jump Scare:
    • The rats in the barn abruptly make their presence known (to the audience, anyway), accompanied by an ear-splitting squeak.
    • During the fight between Bigwig and Woundwort, it cuts in the middle of the fight to Hazel and the runners leading the farm dog to Watership Down. It then cuts suddenly to Woundwort's ugly mug, teeth bared, covered in blood and foaming at the mouth, lunging at the camera!
  • Little "No": Fiver's reaction to being told about what happened to Hazel is to simply, quietly and calmly state "Hazel's not dead." He's right, of course, being a seer he could probably sense his brother was still alive.
  • Match Cut: A particularly great one near the beginning, when Frith dissolves into the late morning sun, with the music settling into a wistful version of the main theme.
  • Myth Prologue: The film begins with a highly stylized Creation Myth. The great Frith (the sun) made the world, and all the creatures on it. The rabbits, however, wandered everywhere and became Explosive Breeders. To combat this, Frith remade some creatures into predators, bent upon hunting and slaying rabbits. Frith then gives the rabbit progenitor this admonition: "Be quick, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed." This is repeated at the end of the tale as Book Ends.
  • Narrator: Voiced by Michael Hordern.
  • No Cartoon Fish: Kehaar eats one. Nor are there cartoonish anything else, save the cartoon opening.
  • Oh, Crap!: The looks on the Efrafans' faces when the dog comes charging onto the down with its first victim dangling bloodily from its jaws. The one that almost got away, especially - and his fate is even worse.
  • Pardon My Klingon: In the novel, a guide to the various lapine words was provided towards the back, with many words also translated in-text the first time the characters spoke them. In the film, the words go untranslated, and a few times it becomes this trope.
  • Red Shirt: Violet - not in the original novel, and she lasts barely a quarter of the way into the film.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Violet is taken by a hawk to show that this is no cartoon fun movie. It's a massive problem because, in the movie, she was their only doe, which puts them at the place they were in the novel (all bucks, no does, no viable warren).
  • Serious Work, Comedic Scene: This is an epic work about a group of rabbits that involves death, prophetic visions, lapine folklore and mythology, and a war with a totalitarian regime. No, seriously. It is most definitely not for younger audiences. It also features a scene where the survivors of the Sandleford Warren help an injured seagull named Kehaar, and then guide him into realizing that there are only males at the warren.
    Kehaar: You stupid bunnies! You got no mates! Vere are mates? VERE ARE CHICKS?
  • Stupid Sacrifice: Blackavar at the end of the film. Arguably motivated by Tranquil Fury.
  • Sugar Apocalypse: "The field...the's covered with blood!"
  • Taking You with Me: Said by Bigwig in response to the Efrafan army coming to kill him and the rest of the warren.
    "If I'm for the Black Rabbit, there's one or two Efrafans that are coming with me!"
  • Tempting Fate: Cars, er, hrududil, may not swerve to attack you unnecessarily, but they do travel in both directions, and won't swerve to get out of your way (at night, anyway).
  • Villainous Valor: You would think that after Woundwort shouts "Dogs aren't dangerous!" to his troops when Hazel leads a dog to them, that he would turn tail and run when the dog actually confronts him. Instead, however much of a monster he is, Woundwort walks the walk, and is last seen leaping at the dog to attack it.
  • Wham Line: The film immediately stops being a cutesy kids movie once Fiver utters this Mood Whiplash of a line:
    Fiver: The field...the's covered with blood!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Unlike the novel, the film doesn’t seem to mind about the characters at the end.
    • Fiver goes into a trance, claims to be dying, repeats "There's a dog loose in the woods" a few times... and that's the last we see of him in the film.
    • Bigwig is last seen all injured and exhausted after fighting Woundwort, who leaves him alone after learning that Bigwig isn’t the chief rabbit.
    • Downplayed with Hazel. When Lucy saves him from Tab, the latter actually doesn’t entirely let go of Hazel, who isn’t seen again until the very end as an elder.