Watership Down makes me think of blood, dead bunnies, Art Garfunkel warbling Bright Eyes, and er, more blood. Not exactly happy memories.
The 1978 animation – less kids’ cartoon, more horror – gave thousands of children nightmares for years.
It would be like settling your kids down in front of Peppa Pig Visits the Abattoir. Therapy, anyone? When I heard the BBC was doing a remake of Richard Adams’ iconic book, it sent a chill through me.
Gemma Arterton, who voices Clover, insists this version of the tale, about the survival of a band of rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home, was nowhere near as scary. I was deeply suspicious.
The new animated series of Watership Down
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Tonight’s feature-length opener started with psychic rabbit Fiver (Nicholas Hoult) having a nightmare he was about to be killed by a digger. Later he hallucinated that the fields were filling with blood and there was talk of something “foul and fierce” on its way to Sandleford Warren.
Cue lots of tense running in the woods, a bit like CBeebies’ Peter Rabbit but with more chance of death. Then a moment when every viewer surely screamed: “GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” as Bigwig, voiced by John Boyega, nearly went splat.
A soaring soundtrack with Psycho-style violin screeching made everything more stressful. And by the time the rabbits were attacked by pecking birds, it really was getting a bit Hitchcock.
Viewers swiftly bundled their children off to bed at this point. Off you go darling, don’t worry, I’ll buy you a pet rabbit for Christmas. Yes, you can sleep with the light on.
The new series is supposed to be lighter than the original
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There was a creepy cult warren that killed off its furry members one by one, Bigwig was nearly strangled in a snare, and there was a run-in with the greatest rabbit nemesis of all – headlights.
Before we knew it Hazel, voiced by James McAvoy, had been shot and had a visit from the rabbit grim reaper. An intense and exhausting 100 minutes, this all may have been less gory than the film, but it was still bleak.
The animation, with some impressive fur, added to the misery – less shiny Disney and more 80s games console.
There were moments of brightness, such as hearing the unmistakable cheery voice of Olivia Colman as Strawberry, and a brilliant comic turn from Peter Capaldi as a selfish, burping seagull.
From the 2005 animated film
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But Captain Holly, voiced by Freddie Fox, told us Sandleford Warren was soon to be a collection of new-builds and the guilt-laden message about humans destroying animals was hammered home. Not quite reaching bloodthirsty levels of the past, yet not kid-friendly, I’m not sure this tamer version knew what it wanted to be.
And can anyone really enjoy rabbit massacre? Oh well, there’s more from Sir Ben Kingsley as an evil dictator in tomorrow’s conclusion, so at least we’ve got that to look forward to…
Watership Down airs tonight at 7pm on BBC1 and continues on Sunday at 7.20pm.
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