“For 45 years, it has menaced our children, bringing unbridled horror and trauma into countless young lives,” said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. “But at last, good sense has prevailed” – and “Watership Down” has been regraded from a U to a PG. In its latest annual report, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) notes that the 1978 adaptation of Richard Adams’s novel no longer feels “suitable for all”.
Normally, I might brand a decision like this as tiresome wokery, said Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail. Not this time. “Watership Down” is “possibly the most disturbing children’s film ever made”. Surreal and full of foreboding, it lures in young viewers with twee images of cartoon rabbits – then “unleashes gory violence laden with satanic overtones”. All of which is accompanied by Art Garfunkel’s song “Bright Eyes”, the “saccharine sweetness” of its tune disguising the deep morbidity of its lyrics. With lines inviting us to follow “the river of death downstream”, Art is referring to rabbits being buried alive and tearing each other’s throats out with their teeth. “He was top of the UK charts for six weeks with that. What were we thinking?”
But where will the BBFC stop now, asked Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Will it rethink the death of Bambi’s mother, and Kaa’s “creepy eyes” in “The Jungle Book”? Who knows, said Robbie Collin, but we can only hope that “one day, the bloodcurdling ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ will receive the 18 certificate it deserves”.