Friday, July 27, 2018

Watership Down (TV Series) Produced by Martin Rosen

Watership Down (TV Series)
Produced by Martin Rosen

Let it never be said I won't try to meet the requests of my readers. There were several requests for Watership Down (the novel) and out of those requests, it was mentioned that there was a cartoon series I should look at as well. So here we are. Reviewing a children's cartoon. Altered Carbon this is not (Few things are).

Watership Down the cartoon was a joint project between Alltime Entertainment of the United Kingdom and Decode Entertainment of Canada (with involvement by the Canadian Television Fund). It aired from for three seasons from 1999 to 2001, for a total of about 39 episodes. Which is about an average run for a cartoon series. While it was released on VHS and DVD in the United States, I could find no evidence that it actually aired in the US, though it did air in a number of nations, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, South Africa and Portugal and of course Canada. The show is very British in its environment and characters, with Bigwig sounding like he should be leading an RAF wing against the Luftwaffe for example, but given that we are talking about a band of rabbits in England, this does make a certain amount of sense (It’s almost like they’re british rabbits being voiced by british actors or something insane like that). As usual for non-book reviews there will two scores given. The first will be of the series as it stands alone and the second scoring it as an adaptation of the book. I should note I only watched the first season because... Look folks, I am not watching 39 episodes of a children's cartoon. I'm just not, the books won't read themselves.

The cartoon cuts down the cast massively choosing to focus on 5 rabbits, Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver, Blackberry and Pipkin; although secondary characters will move in and out of focus in different episodes. The series starts with them (along with Hawkbit and Dandelion) already having escaped from their old warren and being out in the open. The first season covers the story of our main characters encountering the warren of the shining wire (the warren where the rabbits are fed by a man so he can harvest them via snares) fleeing that warren and establishing Watership Down. It also covers their first encounter with Erafa and General Woundwort and the ensuing conflict. The series does a good job of moving the story forward, even if it does drag out some of the conflicts and keeps returning to problems that were solved last episode. So instead of a never-ending status quo, there's an actual story being told here. That said, the padding of things out by returning to old soup is a bit grating. We don't need the discussion of whether or not bucks should dig to drag out for three episodes, or Bigwig having to learn a lesson three times before it sticks. It gets tiresome. The show emphasizes using trickery and cunning to solve problems instead of violence, which is appropriate for the age range of its audience. It also leans on the idea that teamwork is important and you need to learn to work with the people around you. I don't disagree with any of these lessons but well... Children's cartoon. Even then there are some things I found highly puzzling, like who the hell locks their dog into their garden as a means of deterring rabbits. If I had done that, my dog would have dug up half the garden and saved the rabbits the trouble (My dog would have made friends with the rabbits). Also there's an episode involving the rabbits having to escape a greenhouse with a python hunting them... That just can't be legal! I mean who builds a greenhouse in the middle of forest and sticks an invasive predator in it!?! That's downright irresponsible and the kind of thinking that lead to foreign species practically overrunning the Everglades.

(Hi folks, I’m splitting this into its own paragraph. Now, this is the UK, so if they python gets out it will die but WTF!? Who does that? Who builds a greenhouse in the middle of the woods? Who puts a python in a greenhouse? Ok, I actually know some people who do that but at least they secure the greenhouse and it’s in a sensible place like their yard or something! I literally can’t even! I am professionally offended by this bullshit. At least in Redwall the snake is a native species and he’s free-range!)

As a cartoon... I'm not sure my grade is fair. I think five year old me would really liked this, but we're a good three decades away from five year old me. So I'll give it a C-. I wouldn't ever watch this again, unless I was being paid perhaps, but I didn't loathe it or anything...

Now let's talk about it as an adaptation, because wow there are a lot of changes from the book! First, Blackberry is now a girl. This doesn't bother me all that much because the book was a bit of a boys only club. While it does mean making a large number of changes down the road since the root of the conflict between Watership Down and Erafa was that Watership Down needed does because as an all buck warren they were kinda doomed to population collapse. Making Blackberry a girl and reducing the starting cast from 16 to 7 kinda means it harder to use that line (Also: Holy Inbreeding, Batman! They’re grandkids are gonna be like a spanish Habsburg!). I can't criticize them to harshly for this since “We need girls to make babies” isn't a plot line I would trot out to entertain 5 year olds either. (That is where we differ! I would use it as a teachable moment in operational sex ratios, inbreeding depression, and life history theory. Likely until The Children(™) concussed themselves on the walls!{This is why we don’t let you produce, write or direct children’s cartoon Doc}) What is interesting is how they made the conflict more ideological; with Woundwort not being able to stand the idea that Hazel was leading a warren that didn't operate like his. Which is another change. In the book Woundwort is totally focused on Bigwig and doesn't even realize that it's Hazel that is his main adversary. This helps underline the blindness of the system that Woundwort has created, as it is completely unable to understand other methods of authority and leadership. In the cartoon, while Woundwort isn't happy with Bigwig, it's Hazel he's focused on. This is a change that does rob a bit of subtly from the story. The story itself is greatly extended as well partly as a result of the cast being so greatly pared down. The great escape from Erafa isn't ten does, it's one doe named Primrose and a single buck (This isn’t Britain anymore… THIS IS ARKANSAS!). Because of things like this the story drags out longer but feels smaller in scope. The change that stuck the most in my craw was the fact that there are only two stories told about El-ahrairah! With the mythology of the rabbits being one of my favorite parts of the book, I was not happy with this change. To be honest the rabbits are greatly anthropomorphized compared to the book  as well and I was left thinking I could have easily been watching a story about hunter gatherer humans in some ways. As an adaption I have to give the cartoon a D.

So that's the cartoon! To which we're never going back! However, I do have surprise for y'all. Join me this Sunday for a review of the movie that brought trauma and fascination to a generation! That's right, we're doing the movie. Because y'all can't stop me. After that we're embarking on month long examination of an emerging genre, in August, we're going to be asking and hopefully answering the question of what the hell is Solarpunk! We start with the book The Windup Girl.

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Red text is your editor, Dr Ben Allen. 
Black text is your reviewer, Garvin Anders.

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