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‘Watership Down’: Wes Anderson, Guillermo del Toro & More Describe Story’s Impact Ahead Of New Miniseries

'Watership Down': Wes Anderson, Guillermo del Toro & More Describe Story's Impact Ahead Of New Miniseries

Over the years, Richard Adams’ classic adventure novel “Watership Down” has scared, enlightened, and fascinated millions of readers from childhood to adulthood. Additionally, Martin Rosen’s 1978 film adaptation has influenced dozens of filmmakers and is widely considered one of the greatest animated films of all time. With a recent BBC One/Netflix CGI miniseries in the works featuring “Star Wars” newcomer John Boyega, Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley, and Scottish actor James McAvoy, it seems that “Watership Down” will continue its legacy of scarring the living bejesus out of children, in a good way of course. From Wes Anderson to Zack Snyder, check out what influential filmmakers, along with actors and songwriters, have to say about how “Watership Down” came to be one of their most memorable cinematic experiences.

READ MORE: ‘Watership Down’: James McAvoy, John Boyega & Ben Kingsley Join Adaptation of Traumatizing Children’s Book

Guillermo Del Toro:

The Criterion Collection is setting up to re-release a restored Blu-Ray edition of ‘Watership Down’ this February and to commemorate the event, Criterion has asked auteur Guillermo Del Toro to give us his two cents about how the seminal film influenced his future work. Below is excerpt of a longer interview that will be featured on the Blu-Ray release:

“I saw ‘Watership Down’ at the right age. Right at the moment when I was about 13-14, I was leaving behind my childhood and entering my teen years and the movie was a sort of right of passage. I saw a level of realism and drama and violence in the animation. It was such a watershed moment that I then decided to read the book. I came to the book after the film. I then read ‘Plague Dogs’ and ‘The Girl in a Swing’ and I really became quite enamored with his prose. But the film was the moment in which a kid my age came to realize animation was not just a medium for children’s stories but it could be something else.”

“It is a very old tradition to utilize animals to address social issues. You can do it through engravings like Run Bill or you can do it through animal metaphors that are very heavy like ‘Animal Farm,’ or ‘Maus,’ later in comic book form. But what was really powerful for me with ‘Watership Down’ is that it was not just trying to mirror sociopolitical concerns. It was creating a world with sociopolitical concerns. When I say adult concerns, the novel and the film address a variety of things from making peace with mortality, all the way to ecological concerns. [It deals with] the overgrowth of urban spaces, and the destruction of natural spaces, bravery, the idea of community, the idea of oppression. These things that you find in adult discourse and adult novels outside the realm of discussion for children, which were all in the film for me.”

Richard Kelly

Most fans of Richard Kelly’s cult classic, “Donnie Darko,” assume that the inspiration for Frank – the anthropomorphized, human-sized rabbit that stalks Donnie – is from the Jimmy Stewart starring comedy film, “Harvey” (1950), which sees Jimmy’s character befriend a six-foot rabbit by the name of Harvey. Kelly explains that this confusion arrises from them having cut out a subplot:

“The ‘God is Awesome’ T-Shirt was actually written into the script. There’s a whole subplot that was cut out with ‘Watership Down,’ with Drew Barrymore showing the class the film ”atership Down’ and they replace the Graham Greene book because it gets banned. There’s a whole sequence about the Deus ex Machina and The God Machine and arguing about the rabbits, and the meaning of rabbits. Right in the next scene you see her in a shirt that says ‘God is Awesome.'”

Wes Anderson

In preparation for the release of his first animated film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes Anderson did an interview with Parisian publication, Purple Magazine, wherein he explained the dark British film’s influence on his light-hearted Academy Award-nominated stop-motion flick:

OLYMPIA LE-TAN: “What’s your favorite animated movie of all time?”

WES ANDERSON: “‘Watership Down.’ But I also love ‘The Plague Dogs,’ by the same director, Martin Rosen, which is also based on a book by Richard Adams. It’s about dogs used for scientific testing.”

Naveen Andrews

Fresh off his tenure on the smash hit TV show, “Lost,” Naveen Andrews was ready to jump back into the tide of TV. In preparing for his role for “Once Upon a Time In Wonderland,” Andrews explains that “Watership Down” was a formative fable that he read as a child. Talking to BuddyTV, Andrews discussed the rich thematic qualities of the book and film and how it relates to his work today:

“…and the most recent book we’ve read together was ‘Watership Down.’ He is reading ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but not with me. He and I connected with ‘Watership Down’ because that was the book I read when I was eight or nine. That novel itself is based on the Odyssey in that its a journey that involves great tribulation, death, great hardship and there is redemption at the end. And they form us in some strange sort of way. We still need them. We needed them thousands of years ago, and we need them now.”

Vanessa Carlton

It isn’t just filmmakers who were influenced by the disturbing children’s fable. Talking to SongFacts, singer Vanessa Carlton, best known for “A Thousand Miles,” cites “Watership Down” as an inspiration for her album “Rabbits on the Run:”

“I have all the Updike books – he’s probably pulling from the same kind of root, in a sense, with so many mythological and symbolic attachments to the rabbit. So I find that is a symbol in a lot of different artists’ work. Philosophically there’s a thread through both of them that really was like the golden thread for me through this project, through these stories, through this message. But ‘Watership Down’ is like mythological to me. And I connect with both emotionally – I have an emotional reaction to ‘A Brief History of Time.’ But ‘Watership Down’ was more like kind of the emotional bible, and I did carry it around like it was a bible.”

Stephen Colbert

On his wildly successful satire punditry show, Colbert played the ignorant jovial fool, something akin to the political commentators that he so sharply undermines with his comedy work. In building his character, head writer Allison Silverman explained to SplitSider how “Watership Down” came to influence Colbert and how his character would think:

“But the character is a complete moron when it comes to other matters. For instance, he thought ‘Watership Down,’ the book about a society of rabbits, was nonfiction. And it very much bothered him that the rabbits were at war.”

Owl City

Just like Vanessa Carlton, Owl City was also inspired by the twisted tale of “Watership Down.” The popular electronic artist Owl City said to JesusFreakHideout that “Watership Down” inspired his album “All Things Bright and Beautiful”:

“Probably the book that is super inspiring is a book called ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams. It’s from the late 70s, about talking rabbits, and it’s a very grounded-in-reality book. It’s not a kids’ book, but it has to do with these talking rabbits and their adventure, and there’s a lot of metaphors and crazy stuff. And that’s always been a very inspiring thing. If ever I’m feeling dry, or going through writer’s block or something, I just even leaf through some pages of that book and I’m like ‘Whoa, I have to go make music!'”

Zack Snyder

Director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” explains to FilmSchoolRejects that he wanted his “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” to resemble the grittiness and reality of Richard Adams’ movie:

“For me, I said to everybody I don’t know how to make a cartoon. I can make the cool adventure movie with fighting owls with them having a culture. But I guess I did. I mean, I was a fan of ‘Watership Down.’ I thought that was a cool movie that was intense and I could make something like that.”

Martin Rosen

Director of “Watership Down” and Adams’ third novel “The Plague Dogs,” Martin Rosen explains to the Strait Times people’s connection and obsession with the film 38 years later:

“Some people get it and some people don’t. Some people get it, very powerfully. I’m accused of waking people up at night, 25 years after they saw it.”

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