This might be the first time you’re hearing about a new Watership Down project, one that attempts to adapt Richard Adams’ 1972 story about a warren of warring rabbits. The award-winning novel, Adams’ first, was adapted into an incredible animated movie in 1978, followed by a more cartoonish TV series in 1999 that stripped away much of the story’s violence and mature themes. Now, in this new Netflix/BBC adaptation, the rabbits and their environment have gone full CG … and it’s a nightmare.
I’m all for a reinterpretation of Watership Down and was even cautiously optimistic when I heard that a new four-part animated series would be on the way. But this first trailer has dashed much of that hope. It’s clunky. The animation, which already looks 20 years outdated, is herky-jerky and unrefined, more like an art student’s first serious attempt with free animation software than something from an accomplished studio that’s been around almost 25 years. I’ll get more into the particulars of why the quality of this new series may be suffering, but first, the trailer itself:
BBC One’s star-studded new adaptation of Watership Down uses Richard Adams’ bestselling novel as its source to bring an innovative interpretation to the much loved classic.
Adapted for the screen by Tom Bidwell and directed by Noam Murro, this tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of rabbits as they flee the certain destruction of their home.
Yikes. If you were playing a PS2 version of “Watership Down: The Game”, then this might look pretty good, but there’s a lot to be answered for with this sort of effort in 2018. The first culprit? The cast. James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Ben Kingsley, John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, Olivia Colman and Gemma Arterton, along with Rosamund Pike, Peter Capaldi, Taron Egerton, Gemma Chan, Miles Jupp, Freddie Fox, Mackenzie Crook, Anne-Marie Duff, Rory Kinnear, Tom Wilkinson, Jason Watkins, Craig Parkinson, Henry Goodman, Lee Ingleby, Charlotte Spencer and Daniel Rigby all voice fan-favorite characters in the new series. While the upside of that cast full of recognizable names and top industry talent is that you might get a few more eyeballs from the general population, the downside is, presumably, the cost. And with a reported budget of 20 million pounds, the BBC’s biggest buy-in with Netflix to date, I’m gonna go ahead and guess that much of that capital went to landing the voice talent.
That budget’s the second factor, the one that likely leaves little room for animation studio Brown Bag Films to work with. That’s a shame because the Ireland-based company–which is continuing a successful run of making animated kids shows for Nickelodeon, Disney Junior, and Netflix itself, including a kid-focused Peter Rabbit series, not to mention its Oscar-nominated work on animated short films–clearly has capable and talented people throughout the organization. It’s an award-winning studio with a quarter decade of experience under its belt. And I’m at a loss as to how this is the product they’ll be putting their names on (though they are hiring animation directors as of yesterday …)
Maybe the animation isn’t finished. Maybe the trailer is a rougher cut than they’d like but had to release something sooner than later. We’ll find out soon since Watership Down arrives on December 22nd.