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Western Animation / Watership Down (1999)

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A British-Canadian animated children's series based on the novel Watership Down. It aired for three seasons from 1999–2001 on YTV in Canada, and CITV in the UK, though the latter did not broadcast the third season.

The first two seasons adapt the basic plot of the novel, following a group of rabbits who leave their endangered warren in search for a new home.

In the first two seasons, it primarily changes aspects of the characters and story to make it a little less grim e.g. making Blackberry female to add more diversity to the predominantly male cast. It has an all-star voice cast of well-known British actors and comedians, including Phil Jupitus, Rik Mayall, Stephen Fry, Jane Horrocks, Dawn French and even John Hurt returned, but voiced Woundwort instead of Hazel. The third season uses original storylines, having overtaken the end of the novel, and is darker in tone.

Contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Relationship Overhaul: In the book and most other adaptations, Woundwort only interacts with Hazel once and has no idea that he is speaking to the leader of the Watership Down warren, having mistakenly assumed that Bigwig was their chief rabbit. In the series, Woundwort meets Hazel before Bigwig's infiltration into Efrafa, and he is fully aware from the start that Hazel leads the rival warren. Though he and Bigwig still have their rivalry, Woundwort only considers the latter a minor nuisance, while Hazel is his true Arch-Enemy.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The series at its best did allow for some interesting stories that are true to the original book while reflecting modern attitudes. For example, there is the main plot of episode 2 where Hazel notes that it's unfair that Blackberry, the only doe, has to do all the burrow digging, the traditional task of her sex, and he and Fiver have to find a way to make the other bucks do their bit.
    • After the show finished adapting the novel at the end of season 2, it used original storylines for its third season.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Kehaar is much more friendly than in the film and book and stays with the rabbits much longer than he does in the film and original novel. Much like the film, he has moments where he gets noisy, looney, energetic, silly, and hyperactive, and unlike the book and film, he becomes so connected with the rabbits that he actually abandons his own kind to live with the rabbits as their secret weapon.
  • Art Shift: The characters were redesigned for season three. Some changes were barely noticeable, others were drastic. Bigwig, in particular, looks like he's been Locked into Strangeness...which would make sense since he did just get out of a fight with Woundwort, but nobody says anything about it. Gets even more noticeable when they flash back to previous episodes using the old designs.
    • Likewise with the movie, Dandelion's stories shift to a more stylized animation, with El-ahrairah and other characters being drawn as colored outlines.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: In the final few episodes, Hazel fights against Efrafa and Darkhaven. In the last episode he even goes toe-to-toe with Woundwort.
  • Bowdlerise: El-ahrairah was changed to "Elarah", though this one is justified by a bunch of kids probably not being able to pronounce "El-ahrairah." (Too bad "Elarah" means "enemy prince" in Lapine.)
  • Canon Foreigner: Captain Broom, all of the Darkhaven rabbits. Other characters, like Primrose and Captain Moss, are perhaps adapted versions of previously existing characters.
    • As mentioned below, Primrose is the character Hyzenthlay; they just changed it to "Primrose" because the writers thought that kids would have a hard time pronouncing the original name.
  • Casting Gag:
    • John Hurt, who provided the voice for Hazel, the protagonist, in the film, would later go on to do the voice for Woundwort, the Big Bad, in the TV series.
    • Richard Briers, who voiced Fiver in the film, also voiced Captain Broom in a few episodes.
    • In the Japanese dub of the TV series, Bigwig is voiced by Joji Nakata, who already voiced another military critter before.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: After the show runs out of source material from the novel at the end of season 2, the tone of the show... changed a bit. It got much more violent and upped the drama quotient, as well as making some downright strange decisions such as giving some characters the ability to control each other's minds and introducing magic.
  • Cheerful Child: Pipkin is not only portrayed as very young, but his timid nature is removed as well, making him this.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Bark the lendri, after being befriended in The Orchard, returns in the finale to help defend Watership against Woundwort and Darkhaven.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Blackavar was a minor character for the first season, a rarely seen background character for the second season, and disappeared altogether for the third season. And Captain Holly just vanished 2 episodes after his first appearance, though he would sometimes reappear in much later episodes.
  • Collapsing Lair: Subverted. The lair is actually a cavern that the Watership Down rabbits use as secret route to Efrafa.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: In "The secret of Redstone" a human police officer is whistling the theme commonly played during El-ahrah stories.
  • Disneyfication: The TV series changes aspects of the characters and story (gender flipping Blackberry and aging Pipkin down for younger audiences, for example). In effect, it radically changes or waters down the original story's drama and conflict.
  • Disney Villain Death: Woundwort. Subverted as he survives.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Excluding "Elil" (predators) Pipkin is known to be exceptionally good at befriending animals of other species.
  • Gender Flip: Blackberry is a doe, for some reason.
  • Good is Not Nice: Bark. We first meet her staring out of the darkness, growling, "Long-ears," like most of the elil. She then reveals herself and advances on Hazel and Bigwig. Quite understandably, they run for their lives. It turns out she was only trying to offer them an apple and a paw in friendship. Later subverted; Bark turns out to be too nice to an injured Fiver. See I'm Taking Him Home with Me! below.
  • I Owe You My Life: After being healed by Blackberry, Granite shows her and Campion a way out of Darkhaven (it doesn't work). However, he stays loyal to Woundwort, even when he gets saved by Campion en route to Watership Down.
  • Jerkass: Katerina, like many other gulls in the Big Water, She is very rude and egotistic, and takes pleasure in bullying the Puffins. She is also disagreeable as shown when she disapproved of Kehaar's friendship with the rabbits at Watership Down.
  • Killed Off for Real: Subverted, as in the first two seasons as no on screen deaths occur involving any of the lapine characters. Averted in season 3 where characters like Aspen are clearly shown to meet grim fates.
  • Left for Dead: Woundwort. Also Campion, and justifiably so. After all, a freakin' boulder fell directly on top of him...
  • Leitmotif: Woundwort's theme, which seems to be played everywhere it's even remotely applicable.
  • Lighter and Softer: Than the movie and the book series it was based on (though Season 3 attempts to be more Darker and Edgier). Not only do all the major characters survive, it's also in little things like how Fiver is actually allowed to smile in a sustained manner.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Bark, despite being "soft" elil (a predator), very much takes a shine to Fiver and wants to befriend the rabbits. She tells them she's quite sorry she's a badger. (Even the novels hinted this wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility: El-ahrairah himself once entered the service of a badger named Old Brock in exchange for a favor, though the trickster had to resort to his wits to get himself back out of it again).
  • Nice Mean And In Between:
    • Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig fall into this. Fiver plays the 'nice' role as he's always the friendliest and optimistic of the three. Bigwig plays the 'mean' role due to his strict and stubborn behaviour and can be rather harsh in his role as Captain of Owlsa. And Hazel plays the 'in-between' due to him being a caring and friendly leader but not without his frustrated moments here and there.
    • Hawkbit, Dandelion and Pipkin also play this straight. Pipkin fills in the 'nice' role as he is very caring and a Friend to All Living Things. Hawkbit plays the 'mean' due to being a grump and very snarky. Dandelion is the 'in-between' due to being a friendly storyteller but also has moments of snark.
      • In season 3, due to becoming Captain of the Junior Owlsa, Pipkin hangs out less with Hawkbit and Dandelion, and Strawberry takes his place in the 'nice' role.
    • Woundwort's three main Owlsa officers even play this. Captain Campion is the nicest of them who, not only is the first to turn against Woundwort, but even prior to that was shown to be the most merciful of the officers. Captain Vervain is definitely the meanest due to his ruthless and slimy demeanour and is the only one who remains loyal to Woundwort. And Captain Moss mediates between the two, though this is mainly due to being him being a more minor character. It takes longer for him to make a Heel–Face Turn than Campion and isn't as merciful but he's also far less ruthless than Vervain.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: Subverted in the case of Bark the badger in The Orchard. She wasn't kidnapping Fiver, she was trying to rescue him, and she already was pitiable: she only wanted to befriend the rabbits, and regretted being born elil. When the Watership rescue party finally arrives, they administer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on poor Bark until Fiver, of all rabbits, rises to her defense. She ends up a strong ally of the warren.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Fiver's visions are more Seuss-esque in this adaptation.
  • Red Shirt: Early in the third season, a new rabbit named Aspen is introduced. He is killed off six minutes later.
  • Running Gag: Kehaar keeps offering rabbits fish as Comfort Food. Pipkin finally calls him on it in Season 2:
    Kehaar: Okaaaay. *rolls eyes and flies off* Wabbits.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: When Kehaar returns to the “big water”, he quickly realizes that, following his time with the rabbits, he no longer fits in with the other gulls, who are all greedy bullies who only look out for themselves and mock him for showing empathy towards other creatures.
  • Title Montage: While the intro uses original footage, the UK intro is this, using clips from the show.