Apparently playing a brutally violent anthropomorphic rabbit is the next step after anchoring a multi-billion-dollar science fiction franchise, because John Boyega, James McAvoy, Nicholas Holt, and Ben Kingsley have all signed on to play voice-acting roles in the upcoming BBC and Netflix production of Watership Down.
Let’s be clear, here: yes, major dramatic actors will be voicing cuddly forest animals for an upcoming four-part, CGI-animated production. No, this is not The Jungle Book. Watership Down is not a story for children, and yet, children all over the world usually experience it at far too young an age. Netflix and BBC are adapting Richard Adams’s 1972 book again, bringing the “adventure novel” (more on that later) to live through what will probably be top-tier CGI and voice acting. “This is great,” you might say, “an animated adventure story I can watch with my children and enjoy because of its stellar cast.” You would be wrong. Don’t say this. Don’t watch this show with your kids. Watership Down is fucked up.
Here’s a rough synopsis. A runty, bullied, nerd-rabbit named Fiver (Holt) has a prophetic vision of blood covering the entire hillside where his whole family lives. He naturally freaks the fuck out, and convinces his stronger older brother Hazel (McAvoy) to round up as many other rabbits in their warren as he can and evacuate, while avoiding the rabbit military police that will literally kill them if they’re caught. Fiver and Hazel and a gang of rabbits, including Bigwig (Boyega) get away, and some unspeakably horrible shit that I will not spoil happens to everyone else they know.
This all goes down in like the first hundred pages of Watership Down, and it only gets more brutal after that. Along the way, the gang of cuddly fluffy bunnies gets absolutely ravaged by hunters, rats, hawks, owls, and even other rabbits led by General Woundwort (Kingsley). There is a ton of rabbit sex, obviously, because almost everyone in the story is a rabbit, but there’s also rabbit slavery, rabbit fascism, and even systematic rabbit murder at the hands of humans.
If you have children around the 11-13 range, sure, yes, traumatize the everloving crap out of them with this show. It’s practically a rite of cultural passage, and the story is a phenomenal tale that interweaves Second World War themes with classic “hero’s journey” structures and parallels to The Odyssey and The Aeneid. But please, don’t show this to your seven-year-old who was stoked on Zootopia (also, your kid might be a furry).
All that being said, it’s probably going to be very good. Tom Bidwell is the lead writer (he’s been nominated for a BAFTA), 300: Rise of the Empire director Noam Murro is in the chair, and Gemma Arterton, Freddie Fox, Miles Jupp, Olivia Colman and Anne-Marie Duff will all also star.
For a taste, you can check out the trailer to the original 1978 film, which seems very hokey and ‘70s but quickly gets extremely dark.
Matthew Read, BBC drama commissioning editor said this to Variety:
> Before there was ‘Harry Potter’ there was ‘Watership Down,’ Richard Adams’ novel is one of the most successful books of all time and one of the biggest-selling books in history. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to bring a modern-classic to a mainstream BBC One audience with such an incredible roster of actors alongside the talented team overseeing the animation. This fantastic take on the novel will unite the whole family, and bring this classic story to a new generation.
Yeah, sure, buddy, unite the whole family in horror and emotional trauma. Pete Dodd, one of the lead animators for Fantastic Mr. Fox and Frankenweenie will head the CG animation team alongside Hugo Sands and the Dublin-based studio Brown Bag Films. It’s set to be finished and released worldwide sometime next year, so uh, if you were planning on getting a pet rabbit, maybe hold off for a while.