Where Watership Down works is in its extraordinary evocations of the world as rabbits might see it in mythic terms. The opening sequence shows how rabbits might perceive creation myths, taking us through the formation of all rabbits as equal by the god Frith and then the origin of predators as punishment for the playfulness of the Trickster prince El-ahrairah, and the origin of the fluffy tail. It is an extraordinary piece of mythopoeia. And throughout, Watership Down is filled with equally extraordinary pieces of mythic imagery like how the appearance of a train that providentially crushes pursuing rabbits is seen as one of the mysterious messengers of Frith.
Like all classic fantasy, Richard Adams understood the emotional power of setting a small young person or persons of pure heart against the rest of the world. There is a heart-breaking frailty to some of the journey. The film works as much for its translation of Richard Adamss book to the screen as for its willingness to deal with emotions that are rarely seen in Disney films one of the most overriding images in the film is that of ever-present death. Unlike Disney, Watership Down is not afraid to show death as a real thing the scene where Bigwig is caught in a trap and believed killed has a considerable brutality for a kiddie film and the narrated flashback describing the destruction of the burrow, telling of how the rabbits were forced together and crushed, is a extraordinarily dark piece as well. The venture into the poisoned burrow manifests an incredibly oppressive atmosphere. The most heart-wrenching scenes in Watership Down are the appearances of the Black Rabbit of Death. The scene with Fiver following it over the hill when he believes Hazel has been killed, accompanied only by Art Garfunkels song Bright Eyes, is a moment that leaves an entire audiences breaths frozen. The final scene with the appearance of the Black Rabbit to Hazel, gently asking him Would you like to be in my Owsla? I know you would, and Hazel lying down to die while his spirit capers off with the Black Rabbit is an ending so tragically sad that it guaranteed to leave every eye in the house, child and adult alike, going out wet.
Richard Adams went on to write a number of other animal stories, although none that have enjoyed the success of Watership Down. Watership Down director Martin Rosen later returned to make a film out of Adams The Plague Dogs (1982), about the adventures of two dogs escaped from a bio-research lab, although this was little seen bu is an excellent film well worth of rediscovery. The only other Richard Adams work adapted to the screen so far is The Girl in a Swing (1988), which is a ghost story.
Watership Down (1999) was a short-lived animated tv series, produced by Martin Rosen. The BBC have also announced Watership Down (2018), a four-part animated tv series remake.