Watership Down: Another non-American animator

[Screenshot]As luck would have it, an awful lot of lagomorphic film all came to the top of my queue at once. I’ve got Bunny Lake is Missing coming up too, but that one has nothing to do with rabbits expect the title. Anyways, to the point: I watch a fair amount of animation. Mostly I watch Japanese animation, because it seems so much more creative than American animation. But I’m starting to think it isn’t so much that Japan is good at these things so much as that America just isn’t. Consider Watership Down, a British production. The 70s seemed to be, for the most part, a stylistic nadir for animation (and for pretty much every other sort of popular art too, come to think of it), so it’s surprising to see an innovative, stylistically fresh, powerful, animated film coming from the 70s. Of course it isn’t American. Some day, American animation will surprise me, but we honestly just don’t seem willing to expand it beyond a children’s and comedy medium.

Actually, the “animation is for kids and laughs” atittude maks Watership Down suffer both obscurity and outrage this side of the pond. It’s clearly not a comedy, thus all that bleeding and dying and traumatic shit must be meant for kids, right? Wrong. It’s a mature animated film, something America as a whole dare not contemplate. It’s also a stylistically daring film. I knew from the prologue done in a tribal-art style that I was in for a treat and that Watership Down was willing to push the envelope animation-style-wise. Most of the art was done in a reasonably low-budget 70s undetailed-single-color-shape form, but made up for it amply by both some innovative effects (such as the tribal-art prologue and the Black Rabbit of Inlé), and by some awfully good detail on the close-ups.

As for non-techincal details: the voice-acting was good (including the peculiar but generally entertaining choice of Zero Mostel as Kehaar), the mouth-movement-matching poor (but, then, these are non-human characters). The story was of course excellent: it’s basically the Richad Adams original with compression for brevity, but the compression is mostly approriate; the only bit that seemed a bit abrupt was the conclusion of the rescue of the does from the farmhouse.

Anyways, this is one of the finest pieces of animation I’ve seen, in terms of innovativeness and effectiveness. It’s clearly an older, more primitive sort of animaiton than we see a lot of today, but it works with the technological limitaitons of its era well, and feels substantial.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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