The Chinese zodiac calendar tells us that this year is the year of the rabbit.  Millions of people around the world both inside and outside of Chinese culture tend to know their Chinese zodiac sign and take interest in the calendar.  But what does being born in the year of the rabbit mean?

For those born in the year of the rabbit it is said that they are articulate, talented, ambitious, virtuous, reserved and have excellent taste.  Rabbit people are admired, trusted and often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind, they make great businessmen and would be great gamblers, but many aren’t due to their virtuous nature.

Rabbit people sound pretty much perfect! It’s a real shame I’m a dragon.

All this talk of rabbits had me thinking about a movie which is so deeply embedded in my childhood memories it still resonates today.  Watership Down.

In 1978 this animated fantasy film was made based on the book by Richard Adams.  The film was a huge success and although most  children of my generation saw it had nightmares, they were also, intrigued and  in love with it. We all had a favourite character, the same could be said for the adults who watched this movie alongside their kids too.

The basic synopsis of the story is this; Fiver, one of the rabbits foresees that the warren is no longer safe and in grave danger and asks the Owsla (police of the warren) to orchestrate an evacuation of the warren.  This is dismissed and only eight of the rabbits escape to try and find safety.  They encounter an annoying seagull and various scrapes and battles in their bid to find peace and a safe haven.  On this journey two situations occur that as a kid terrified me to my very core.

That eye still haunts me!

The first was General Woundwort, to this day I still vote him the most frightening and evil animated villain of all time.  That evil greyed out eye and those torn ears and twisted features.  That guy gave me nightmares for months.  I remember quite clearly my brother and I settling down to watch this “cartoon” and when Woundwort appeared we were completely blindsided, sat perfectly still and gripped to the screen. I think if we look back we were too terrified to move!  The second was when Bigwig (my favourite) got caught with a trap wire around his neck. The harder he struggled, the tighter it got, and he was choking.  For Duffy as an 8 year old it was the most heartbreaking moment in her life.  Real rabbits had gone to heaven in the back garden, but nothing compared to the love I felt for Bigwig and the will for him to survive, which thankfully he did.

Why has this movie become such a classic? Why when you ask your friends or read the comments on Youtube you realise so many children were deeply affected by this movie? Although we were all scared, we truly loved it too.  I don’t know the answer really, all I know is that 23 years or so on the emotions and memories I have of this movie are just as strong as when I was sobbing my little heart out with my brother on the sofa.

The epic movie is relatable on so many levels to all people.  The strong, well constructed dialogue, the choice of voices for each of the characters, the dark animation and of course the heart wrenching sound track were a perfect combination.  Even hearing bright eyes now chokes me up.  Today it still hasn’t dated, the animation is obviously not a patch on the shiny bright DreamWorks style productions, but its core has heart and all the elements balance perfectly to reach across many genres; fantasy, children, love, action, thriller and on some level even political.

If you don’t well up at this video you surely have no soul…

I’m thankful for being a child of the 70’s and 80’s.  Great movies like this and the original Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe are pieces of cinematic art to be treasured.  Will we be talking fondly in the same way 20 years from now about Shrek  11 and Toy Story 5? Franchised movies made for kids and for the almighty dollar? I just don’t see it.

If you haven’t seen Watership down then get out and buy it, and if you haven’t seen it for a long time, it might be time to settle down with your kids and share this classic. Although I would suggest if they are under 7 then give it a few years!

“All the world be your enemy prince of a thousand enemies, and whenever they catch you they will kill you.  But first they must catch you! Digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning.  Be cunning and full of tricks and your people will never be destroyed.”