I think there’s a lot you can take away from Watership Down (here’s my review on the novel), but at the same time it’s a little fluffy. I’m not using that term because it has rabbits that are cute (I think they’re cute), but because it’s nicer than out rightly saying it’s fluff. The thing is it isn’t entirely fluff because it does have some depth, but after reading the book I felt there was a lot missing. There’s so much message in the novel itself, but I don’t see it coming across on screen.
I’ll save the rest of the adaptation remarks for later, for now I’ll stick with the film. It’s not a bad film, it’s a good one to pass the day with if you’re feeling the need to watch something, but are not sure what you’re in the mood for. Not to be unfair to the story, I feel it’s something to stare at rather than digest. The rabbits are cute even when they’re being tough, it shares dangers and lessons that any watcher can pick up on, but I still felt it was lacking and the only reason I know as much about the stories’ deeper lessons is because I’ve read the book.
As for the animation, I really liked it. It has more depth and feel to it compared to a lot of modern animations, and the rabbits haven’t been done in a cutesy style, which would have been a joke for this story.
Thoughts on Adaptation
I know that when something is adapted, across all media formats, there are going to be liberties and not all details are going to be included because really an adaptation is a work inspired by the original. At least that’s what I like to think of it and ever since I’ve adopted that view I’ve found I’ve been far less disappointed and annoyed with adaptations.
I’m not annoyed with Watership Down, but I am a little disappointed. I’m more accepting because of my view on adaptations and I realise because the intended audience is a younger one with the book, that they’re going to play it down and adapt it for that same audience with the film.
As usual all the detail hasn’t been brought across when some of it could have been, but is that personal preference or does it really matter to the story? I can’t answer that for anyone else except myself, but I do feel it can make a difference. There’s more build up, characters are more sinister, and there’s more characterisation because of the details, which the film seems to lack.
What really bothered me, I think, is the leaving out of El-ahrairah. If you haven’t read the novel, El-ahrairah is a folk tale hero the rabbits all worship and share stories about. These stories are spread throughout the book, with the rabbits telling a new tale, either when they stop to rest or to feed. In the novel I found they enhanced it and tied in with the rabbits’ journey, the different characters, and their problems at the time. The absence of the tales during the film takes a lot away. You don’t get to learn about the characters individually as much and you miss out on grasping their culture. I would have loved to see the tales of El-ahrairah brought to life visually and I think it really would have made a big difference to the film.
All of the above mentioned is enough to leave me coming away disappointed, but Fiver’s visions are the one saving grace. I love how his visions are brought to life in the film with a combination of surrealism and a realistic backdrop. His episodes don’t as much take away, as to be part of the story completely, something of which I appreciate because there are dreamscapes and then there’s reality. Watership down isn’t about dreamscapes or abstract imaginings, it’s about survival and a bid for freedom, instead of taking away or running off on a different route, the way Fiver’s visions are handled are done so they mesh with the rest of the visuals.
In my opinion Watership Down is a movie to watch before reading the book so you can be introduced to the story and then get to learn more about it rather than feeling a loss of information.