Iron Woobie: Captain Holly in the film and especially the book. Survives his warren's destruction, gathers together a small group of survivors, only to have all but one of them die anyway, gets his ear ripped to shreds, and almost goes mad before he finally reaches Watership Down. And then he gets sent to Efrafa and just barely manages to lead his group out, though most of them are badly off. But he pulls through each trauma, shares the story for catharsis, and after he recovers he goes right back to work.
Narm: You shouldn't name the savage and fierce dog "Bob" if you want to be taken seriously.
Fiver, especially in the film and TV series. Then again, it's hard to imagine how an adorable little rabbit who is totally lost without his big brother and who suffers from violent hallucinations wouldn't be a Woobie. He used to get kicked around a lot apparently, and the rabbits who follow him need quite some time until they believe he DOES see things. And after the fight against the Efrafrans very detached from their world, probably an after-effect of the powers and spirits he channelled. Just the type of wild rabbit you would pick up, cuddle and take home if you'd find him half tharn in a meadow.
In the novel, Pipkin, as well. Even smaller and weaker than Fiver.
Values Dissonance: The treatment of gender roles in the book feels quite awkward to modern readers. Although Hyzenthlay is a reasonably developed character, the story is entirely male-centred. The crisis in the second part is driven by the fact that the rabbits need females to mate with, and most of the does, particularly the hutch-bred ones, are treated rather dismissively. However, the issue is played with slightly by pointing out that the lack of female characters in the main party, something that the reader at the time might not have thought was noteworthy, is actually a serious problem, and in fact a mistake that human society has occasionally made.
The TV series tries to remedy this by making Blackberry female, expanding the role of Primrose (Hyzenthlay's Expy) and introducing a female mouse character called Hannah; the Netflix series does its own take by gender flipping Strawberry instead and making Clover more prominent, albeit at the expense of Hyzenthlay's actions and screentime, and actually uses even more sexist language and gender roles. Likewise the book's sequel features considerably more female presence.
And You Thought It Would Fail: The book was rejected seven times before it was accepted by Rex Collings. The one-man London publisher Collings wrote to an associate, "I've just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I'm mad?" The associate did call it "a mad risk," in her obituary of Collings, to accept "a book as bizarre by an unknown writer which had been turned down by the major London publishers; but," she continued, "it was also dazzlingly brave and intuitive."
Angst? What Angst?: Described as a characteristic of rabbits — whatever horrors or sorrows come along, rabbits feel them intensely at the moment but then bounce back and get on with their lives.
Fan-Preferred Couple: Bigwig and Hyzenthlay. Though the book states that the rabbits have no concept of romantic feelings. Hyzenthlay likely became Hazel's mate because they were the male and female alphas.
Mary Suetopia: What Watership Down seems to have become in Tales. The warren is a pioneer in democratic government, the protagonists are always ready to help any animal who comes to them with a problem, and they're always right.
Narm: Hyzenthlay telling a poem while Bigwig is spying in Efrafa is suitably dramatic and sad because it's a poem about how she can't produce a litter of kittens due to the warren being overcrowded. She finishes, and there's a moment of silence...then a bunch of bird poop drops down in front of them.
Nightmare Fuel: The White Blindness (Myxomatosis.) Keep in mind that it was deliberately introduced by humans to control the rabbit population.
One-Scene Wonder: The Black Rabbit of Inle only appears in one of Dandelion's stories, but it's one you'll never forget.
Paranoia Fuel: The book does an excellent job of making you know what it feels like to be an object of prey.
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: Despite the graphic depictions of... everything, Watership Down is a children's novel. It's based on stories the author told his two young daughters on long car journeys (the oldest was eight), is dedicated to them, and won the Carnegie Award for children's fiction when published.
Woolseyism: The translations from Lapine are sometimes presented this way. For example: Bigwig's name in Lapine is Thlayli. The literal meaning is "Fur-head", but "Bigwig" is an even more apt way of putting it, since he's also a senior officer of the warren.
Though he outlived Zero Mostel by about a decade, Denholm Elliot would pass away in 1992 due to a mix of AIDS and tuberculosis. This makes the scene where Cowslip recites the poem about death and the Black Rabbit and the character's overall sickly, thin appearance very hard to watch.
Hazels death, one of John Hurt's most realistic ones in his career, besides the fact that the character died at old age, becomes even harder to sit through after Hurts own death in 2017.
The Bright Eyes scene becomes even sadder to watch in Latin America when you realize that Fiver was voiced in said region by Ricardo Mendoza, whose brother and also voice actor Luis Alfonso Mendozawas shot in February 2020. Sadly, unlike Hazel in said scene, he didnt survive.
Never Live It Down / Overshadowed by Controversy: Usually most people nowadays (especially from the Internet) first hear and talk about the film due to how violent it is rather than any plot details. As a result, despite receiving good critical reception and being considered as one of the greatest British animated films, this has been overridden for its reputation as being among the absolute most violent and horrifying childrens works of all time and has permanently affected the source materials reputation as well as everything spun from it, though it sometimes falls into Broken Base (theres a reason why the TV series last season became Darker and Edgier).
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: It provides the trope image for a reason. The addition of colour, sound, and movement makes several parts of the experience even more uncomfortable to sit through than the original novel, but the target demographic remains unchanged. The big thing that brings down criticism is that characters actually bleed when injured or killed rather than using Bloodless Carnage.
Several. The Black Rabbit of Inlé, The Hole in the Sky, the Terrible Hay-Making...
The Hole in the Sky involves El-ahrairah hearing of the titular phenomenon and going in search of it. After losing a fight with a weasel and falling into an infection-driven fever, he unexpectedly finds it:
"Then he began to tremble with fear. In the blue curve of the sky he saw a great rent, a cleft which, he perceived, was an open, gaping wound. The two irregular edges were jagged as though it had been made with something blunt, something which had first cut and then ripped and torn. Here and there shreds of flesh, still attached to the edges, stuck out across the wound, obscuring whatever was behind. All that he could see in the suppurating depth of the wound was blood and pus, a glistening, viscous, uneven surface like a marsh. The edges were messy too, fringed all along with blood and yellow matter on which flies were walking. As he stared in horror, the dead body of a rabbit fell out of the wound, but disappeared as it fell."
What makes it even more disturbing is that Adams offers no explanation of what the Hole in the Sky is or what it means. It is, quite simply, a rabbit thing that humans would never understand.
Look at it this way: You've just read a description of a Lapine Eldritch Abomination; it is perceived only by those in the final stages of delirium and madness, it is beyond understanding except to the insane, and those that have seen it are marked forever.
The 2018 series:
Awesome Music: Sam Smith's "Fire on Fire", a hauntingly gorgeous song that beautifully taps into the story's themes of fear, hope, love, and friendship.
Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The Efrafan does busting out in an Irish lament to distract their captors just as Bigwig is outed as a mole. Being almost like a musical number, it is never brought up again and seems to only be in the film so that Emeli Sande can contribute to the soundtrack.
The animators appear to have based the characters on hares, not rabbits. Rabbits have shorter legs and differently-shaped bodies than the characters who appear in the series. Possibly justified; the longer legs made the rabbits easier to differentiate and their longer faces easier to animate.
The rabbits have pawpads. As anyone who has ever held a real rabbit can tell you, they don't. The bottoms of their feet are covered in coarse, fluffy fur instead. It's very jarring compared to the otherwise realistic-looking (besides the proportions) models.
Harsher in Hindsight: The miniseries deviates from the novel by having Hyzenthlay become Holly's love interest instead of Hazel's mate. As Hazel and Hyzenthlay are voiced by James McAvoy and Anne Marie-Duff, respectively, one cannot help but wonder if this change was made due to their real-life divorce not long before production on the miniseries began.
The franchise's Signature Song "Bright Eyes" is completely absent from the film.
Uncanny Valley: The backgrounds are photo-realistic and fluid, which makes the jerky character animation all the more jarring. So does the fact that the rabbits all have human eyes (to give them eye color and help differentiate them).
Most of the voice actors are spot-on, but seriously, Peter Capaldi as Kehaar? Not helped by Capaldi using his natural Scottish accent instead of putting on a Norwegian one.
Since it was announced, many fans of the book questioned the decision to cast John Boyega as Bigwig, due to him being deemed too young and high-pitched for a character commonly portrayed as grizzled and experienced. In the miniseries itself, Boyega does manage to do a deeper voice for the character, but can sound as if he is trying to sound older and tougher than he actually is, which sounds unintentionally hilarious at times.
Zig-zagged with Sir Ben Kingsley as Woundwort. As talented and respected he is as an actor, and despite how well he did in playing the callous and cruel side to the character's nature, Kingsley does not bring to the voice the nasty level of viciousness and bloodlust that Harry Andrews and John Hurt famously did for their incarnations.