The film adaptation of Watership Down (1978) is another touchstone of my youth, and, as far as I’m concerned, the most powerful and haunting animated feature ever made. I still remember picking the Richard Adams novel (1972) out of the thrift store book bin in ’81 or ’82 and devouring it over the next several days. (It has more than a little of Tolkien’s myth-making, epic quality.) I have a more emotional connection to the movie, though, and here’s the part of the review that explains why:
Parents should be warned that, like in Disney’s Bambi, death and violence are not strangers to this animal kingdom, and the sight of bunnies in mortal conflict could disturb some of the more tender youngsters. Yet the same parents should remember that children have a keen contempt for the patronizing falseness of nicer-than-real story telling. They, too, are no strangers to raw conflict.
Italics mine. Here was a movie that, while animated, forthrightly explored death, sacrifice, violent conflict, politics, and morality as if younger viewers were bright enough to (1) grasp those concepts and (2) be entertained by the story that employed them. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a montage of the most graphic scenes of “bunnies in mortal conflict,” set to music from The Omen. (The movie pops up frequently on Kindertrauma, and rightly so.)
I know parents who pulled their kids out of Frozen because some scenes (specifically the as-non-graphic-as-possible, nicer-than-real shipwreck and the snow monster) were too disturbing. Frozen! Forget “raw conflict,” these kids aren’t even allowed to suffer a moment of emotional discomfort.
“All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies. And whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you—digger, listener, runner, prince with a swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”
Chills. I get chills.
(The review, written by Dave Chenoweth, is from The Montreal Gazette, January 27, 1979.)