Martin Rosen’s “Watership Down”

watership Martin Rosen’s adaptation of Richard Adams’ seminal fable is ‘the one everybody talks about.’ And, for good reason. While the animation itself isn’t as up-to-par or clean as it would be with “The Plague Dogs,” the rest of the film does its’ best to make up for it – and, it does, for the most part. If there is any real flaw to be found, its’ in the compression of the middle-section of the novel, which reduces the impact of the scenes set in Cowslip’s warren.

What makes the film, for me, are those quieter, tense moments that Rosen handles deftly – Hazel, caught under the paw of the farm cat (“Can you run? I think not.”), the entirety of the “Bright Eyes” sequence, the Owsla rabbit’s escape from the warren. These are some of the best scenes in the film, and its’ worth seeing entirely just for these and the others like them – and, there are many.

While it isn’t the balls-out masterpiece that “The Plague Dogs” is, this is certainly a more than worthy companion piece, and well-deserving of its’ reputation.

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4 thoughts on “Martin Rosen’s “Watership Down”

  1. Toongirl says:

    Personally, I find it interesting how some movie critics always seem to like the unrelentingly depressing films of some directors. There is an excellent reason why ‘Watership Down’ was the more successful than ‘Plague Dogs’, both film-wise and financially.

    Unlike ‘The Plague Dogs,’ ‘Watership Down’ captured the primal spirituality which made the novel such an incredible bestseller. Outside the fact that the rabbit characters talk, they behave like natural animals and their world is very realistically rendered.

    The ability to make an audience believe that an animal has a strong inner life without needing the crutches of magic, clothes, and stupid dance numbers is quite an achievement. Adams does this brilliantly in his book, and Rosen’s film successfully follows suit in how the rabbits and their world are designed.

    Some movie critics may scoff at the animation (which varies from the sublime to anime-ugly, depending on who animated which sequence). The picture you have above in your post represents some of the most beautiful shots in the movie. Rosen hired a team of animators on a shoestring budget, so the young artists cutting their teeth on this film should be given some slack. I’m guessing the few veteran animators like Bill Littlejohn did the better drawn segments. Either way, there’s more soul in the visuals in this picture than I’ve seen in 3D fests like “Cars,” or “Final Fantasy.”

    • henryjbaugh says:

      Thanks very much for the extended thoughts, Toongirl! It also reminds me that I need to go back and write longer posts about this and the three or four other films from my first month or so, writing as “The Filmist.”

      I don’t prefer The Plague Dogs because it’s more depressing, but because I think that, being Rosen’s second film, he’s matured as an animation director – and the animation itself, as you mentioned, has improved in quality ten-fold. But, this is still a great film.

      As you mentioned, the emphasis on spirituality and naturalism in place of magic or clothes or any sort of over-caricaturisation is particularly well-done. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a good dance number, if it’s done well.

  2. Toongirl says:

    You’re right about the animation being better in ‘The Plague Dogs.’ That’s thanks to Rhetta Scott’s animation of the dogs themselves. Rhetta Scott was an animation veteran from ‘Bambi’ and Disney’s first female animator.

    At the time Walt’s top artists were busy with the deer and secondary characters, Walt needed someone skilled enough to do the scary hunting dog scene. Normally women were relegated to the ink & paint dept., but Rhetta’s animal portfolio knocked everyone on their keister.

    Compared to ‘Watership Down’ however, ‘The Plague Dogs’ muddy backgrounds and tinny synthesizer soundtrack detracts from its lovely animation. I’ve been to the Lake District where this story takes place, and the background artists simply do not do this gorgeous area any justice. Whichever background artists Rosen chose from the original ‘WD’ crew, he sadly chose the wrong ones.

    • henryjbaugh says:

      I’ve never been, so I can’t really comment. Still, I don’t really think I’d call the backgrounds “muddy,” myself.

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