Watership Down is a British-Canadian animated fantasy children's television series, adapted from the novel of the same name by Richard Adams. It was a co-production of Alltime Entertainment of the United Kingdom and Decode Entertainment of Canada, and produced by Martin Rosen, the director of the 1978 feature film adaptation. It was produced with the participation of the Canadian Television Fund, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit from the Government of Ontario.
Watership Down aired for 39 episodes and three seasons from 1999 to 2001, on both YTV in Canada and CITV in the UK, though the latter did not broadcast the third series. It starred several well-known British actors, including Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Phil Jupitus, Jane Horrocks, Dawn French, John Hurt, and Richard Briers, among others. Hurt and Briers also starred in the film. Stephen Gately sang a new arrangement of Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes", which had been included in the 1978 film, while Mike Batt (who wrote "Bright Eyes") and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra contributed a completely new score. In 2003, composer Mike Batt was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Original Music Score for a Dramatic Series for his work on the show.
Following the basic plot of the novel, Watership Down follows the lives of a group of rabbits as they leave their endangered warren in search of a safe new home. They travel across the English countryside, braving perilous danger, until they find a hill called Watership Down, where they begin a new warren. However, they are endangered by another warren, Efrafa, which is led by the authoritarian General Woundwort, and they are soon forced to defend their home and lives.
Although the first series began with elements taken from the original novel, later episodes within it as well as the second and third series were almost entirely new content, with many episodes focusing solely on new characters and situations. For instance, in the second episode, "Home on the Down," Hazel realizes that having their only doe, Blackberry, do all the digging for their new burrow, the traditional role of does among rabbits, is unfair and counter-productive. Thus, he and Fiver must find a way to convince the other bucks to help her.
In addition, the third series featured a new opening sequence and style of animation, along with many of the original voice actors leaving, only leaving a handful of the original cast to remain. The programme became noticeably darker in tone, adding elements of mysticsm and magic, such as Campion's encounters with the Black Rabbit of Inle, Silverweed's psychic powers, though these would be similar to Fiver's own psychic powers and Hannah's learning of hedge magic.
Although the series was praised by younger audiences at the time of the series' air, fans of both the novel and the movie gave it mixed reviews due to drastic changes from the novel (like Blackberry changed from a buck to a doe) and its more child-friendly tone as compared to the violence of the movie. The third series changed this for a darker tone.
Watership Down was voiced by many familiar faces in British film and television. John Hurt, the voice of Hazel in the film, was reprised as the voice of General Woundwort, and Richard Briers, the voice of Fiver in the film, appeared in the series as Captain Broom. Dawn French, Jane Horrocks, Stephen Fry, Phil Jupitus and Rik Mayall all provided voices, as Buttercup, Hannah, Cowslip, Dandelion and Kehaar, respectively. To a lesser extent, the late former Boyzone member Stephen Gately, who performed the re-working of "Bright Eyes", provided the voice of Blackavar, and comedy actor Stephen Mangan provided the voice of Bigwig and later, Silverweed, replacing Tim McInnerny who provided Silverweed's voice for one episode in Series 1. Actor Kiefer Sutherland was involved and voiced a new rabbit called Hickory, but only for 3 episodes, to be replaced in Series 3 by Rob Rackstraw who also provides the voice for Captain Campion and various other characters. By Series 3 most of the celebrity voices were reduced and were replaced by high-profile voice actors, with only a few of the original cast reprising their roles and provide additional voices.
- Rob Rackstraw as Campion, Captain Holly, Hickory (Series 3), Raincloud, Granite
- Stephen Mangan as Bigwig, Silverweed (Series 3), Black Rabbit of Inle, Shale
- David Holt as Vervain, Bluesky, Boxwood, Darkling
- Andrew Falvey as Fiver, Flax, Felspar
- Sue Elliot Nichols as Blackberry, Tabitha
- Lee Ross as Hawkbit
- Richard Briers as Captain Broom
Series 1/2 only
- Ian Shaw as Hazel
- Rik Mayall as Kehaar
- Elliot Henderson-Boyle as Pipkin
- Stephen Fry as Cowslip
- Kiefer Sutherland as Hickory
- Stephen Gately as Blackavar
- Kate Ashfield as Primrose
- Tim McInnerny as Silverweed
- Dawn French as Buttercup
- Stephanie Morgenstern as Marigold
- Anthony Barclay as Calohki
- John Hurt as General Woundwort
- Matt Wilkinson as The Weasel
- Phill Jupitus as Dandelion
- Jane Horrocks as Hannah
- Tom Eastwood as Moss
- Jo Rodriguez as Clover
- Robert Harper as Strawberry
- Janet Dale as Bark, Tassle, Frost, Katerina
- Alice Welsh and Sean Welsh as Primrose's Bunnies
- Ron Rubin as Parrot #1
- Rob Smith as Parrot #2
Series 3 only
- Anthony Jackson as Kehaar, Cowslip
- Maria Darling as Hannah, Pipkin
- Paul Panting as Strawberry, Flax
- Penny Freeman as Primrose, Marigold
- Nigel Pegram as Hazel, Moss, General Woundwort, Dandelion
These voices would also replace actors who left their roles from the first two series, but these roles are currently difficult for fans to identify who played which role, as the series 3 credits only listed the actors' names and not the roles they played.
Hazel - the main protagonist of the show and Fiver's older brother. He leads the rabbits from Sandleford and eventually becomes Chief Rabbit of Watership Down. Although he is not the strongest or smartest of the bucks, Hazel is a charismatic leader who recognizes and employs the skills of his fellow bucks to great success. He is shot while freeing the hutch rabbits at Nuthanger Farm and almost dies, but is saved by his younger brother Fiver. Although lamed by this injury, he leads the foray to Efrafa and comes up with the final, successful strategy to defeat General Woundwort. Hazel's beautiful mate is Primrose, whom he freed from Efrafa.
Fiver – the deuteragonist of the show and Hazel's younger brother. A small runty rabbit whose visions of the destruction of the Sandleford warren lead him to leave, along with his older brother Hazel and several other rabbits. He appears to be more prescient than his novel counterpart, and his visions come in rhymes. He often feels responsible for foreseeing terrible things or blaming himself for their outcome. He and Hazel are very close.
Bigwig – the tritagonist of the show. Formerly an officer in the Sandleford Owsla, so-called because of the large amount of hair surrounding his face, giving him the appearance of a lionhead rabbit. The largest and most powerful of the Sandleford survivors, he is often blunt and impatient for dangerous action and fighting. After nearly getting killed in a snare in episode 3, he realizes that Fiver is right more often than not. He quickly befriends Kehaar and often asks for his help on Hazel's behalf. Hazel often selects him for the most dangerous missions, such as the infiltration of Efrafa. Later, he becomes captain of Watership Down's Owsla and falls for Spartina, a doe from Darkhaven.
Blackberry – while a male in the original novel, in the TV series Blackberry is a doe who is skilled with herbs and is referred to as the digging expert. As in the novel, she is the most intelligent of the rabbits, and often comes up with ingenious ideas. She is the only doe to go to Watership Down with Hazel and the others. Later in the series she falls in love with Campion. She is devastated when she thinks Campion is dead, but is rejoined with him when she is taken prisoner in Darkhaven. At the end of the series she and Campion return to Watership Down together.
Dandelion - an accomplished storyteller, a joker and a wise guy who provides much of the series' comedy relief. He is a good friend of Hawkbit, despite their mutual attraction to former Efrafan doe Heather (who later leaves with Moss to start a new warren). He and Hawkbit serve in Bigwig's Owsla together.
Pipkin - a very young, adventurous rabbit eager to prove himself in the eyes of his bigger companions—particularly Hazel and Bigwig. He is the youngest of the Watership Down rabbits and has the gift of making friends with everyone including other animals in the Down area, to the point that when he is in trouble they will immediately join together with the Watership Down rabbits to come to his rescue. Even General Woundwort found he was not immune to Pipkin's charm and refused to kill him, saying that it would be like killing a part of himself. During the last season Pipkin grows up to be a responsible rabbit, even leading the 'Junior Owsla'.
Hawkbit – a pessimistic, grouchy and sarcastic rabbit who always has a biting comment for every situation, but is a dependable member of the warren whenever help is needed. An outstanding example of the effect Hazel has upon those rabbits who would otherwise have been totally disregarded in the warren hierarchy. He later becomes a good friend of the more cerebral Dandelion and during the last season, he settles down with Clover.
Captain Holly – former captain of the Sandleford Owsla, Holly has only a minor role and is mostly used as a background character. He formed a key part of the Watership Down defenses in the last season.
Clover – a former hutch rabbit rescued from Nuthanger Farm. She and Hawkbit settle down at the end of the series.
Primrose - born at Redstone and a captive in Efrafa until her rescue by the Watership Down rabbits. Primrose is very supportive of Hazel, who becomes her mate and is also a dedicated mother to her three children Snowdrop, Mallow, and Gilia (who were fathered by Hazel). She and Campion also have a strong bond due to her being saved by him multiple times back in Efrafa. In Efrafa she showed a rebellious and stubborn attitude toward Vervain, who bullied and tormented her at every given opportunity. Despite her deep hatred for Vervain, she, Fiver, Holly, and Captain Broom saved his life when he was caught in some wire, although she originally protested the idea of helping the rabbit "that made her life miserable." Later she hates herself for letting him go when she finds out he formed an alliance out of fear with Woundwort. Primrose replaces the character of Hyzenthlay from the novel and film.
Blackavar - a captive in Efrafa with Primrose who was rescued by the Watership Down rabbits. Blackavar has only a minor role and is mostly used as a background character.
Strawberry - an orange rabbit who leaves Cowslip's warren after meeting Hazel and Bigwig and joins them in Watership Down. Initially lazy from his time with Cowslip, he later proves to be an accomplished digger and serves in Bigwig's Owsla.
Captain Broom - the former captain of the Redstone Owsla. When Primrose, now free from Efrafa, returns to see her old friends Broom informs her that an unspecified illness has wiped out the entire warren but him. He joins the Watership Down rabbits at Hazel's invitation. He usually bores them with his tall tales, but does have wisdom (his knowledge about sheep helps avert a disaster) and can be relied upon in a crisis. He and Captain Holly also get along with each other.
Kehaar – a black-headed gull who is forced by an injured wing to take refuge on Watership Down. He is characterized by his frequent impatience, guttural accent and unusual phrasing. Eventually, after Hazel and the others befriend him, he flies over the countryside in an attempt to discover other warrens where the rabbits might find does to mate with. He discovers the Efrafan warren and after helping the rabbits he meets a gull called Gluk and flies to the city to settle down with her because she likes life in the city better.
Hannah - a brown mouse. She is a good friend of Kehaar and has a kind of love/hate relationship with Bigwig who feels she is too small to be of any use in a fight, but her bravery more than makes up for her size. After Kehaar's departure, Hannah tries to learn magic to help her friends on the Down. Silverweed instead takes her magic into himself to save the Down. Although a mouse featured in the novel, it appeared only briefly, and spoke with a thick Italian accent.
Snowdrop - a white female kit, one of Hazel and Primrose's kits.
Mallow - a dark tan male kit, one of Hazel and Primrose's kits.
Gilia - a tan female kit, one of Hazel and Primrose's kits.
Cowslip's Warren (The Warren of Snares)
Cowslip - the so-called leader of the warren, there is some doubt as to whether he is insane or totally evil. Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig first encounter him when they accompany Captain Holly to recover an injured Sandleford rabbit left there, only to learn the warren's terrible secret when Bigwig nearly becomes a victim and that the missing rabbit was a victim. He becomes angered by Hazel's warren when they help a group of his rabbits escape from his warren, and even helps Woundwort to get his revenge on them, however, as he himself states, "I'm a plotter, not a fighter" and he uses both sides for his own gain. Later he trades his seer, Silverweed, to Woundwort in exchange for the destruction of his escaped rabbit's warren.
Silverweed – a seer with mental abilities similar to Fiver, in particular possessing the ability to see into another rabbit's mind by touch. He is traded to Woundwort to help him seek his destiny and was taken away from the Warren of the Shining Wires to Darkhaven, but later ends up on Watership Down and becomes a good friend of the rabbits there, even sacrificing most of his youth to help save the warren from Woundwort.
General Woundwort – the main antagonist of the series. A brutal and tyrannical leader who sees himself as the one doing everything for the best of his warren, Woundwort strives to destroy Hazel and his 'outsiders' because of the hope for free life they represent for his own subjects. He is a huge, burly rabbit with black, ragged fur and a blinded left eye. He deeply respects Campion, even after his betrayal by him, and he often punishes and threatens Vervain, but still values him as an adviser and loyal subject despite this. He briefly shows a softer side after Pipkin tells him that his parents were killed by a weasel (a fate that Woundwort himself went through), and for a brief moment before Efrafa's destruction sees himself for what he is and what he has brought Efrafa to. After the destruction of Efrafa, Woundwort becomes obsessed with seeking his destiny of destruction, which leads him to the warren he was born in: Darkhaven. In the end, he is taken by the Black Rabbit of Inlé along with most of the Darkhaven rabbits.
Campion – Woundwort's most trusted subordinate. Campion sees that Woundwort's leadership is destroying Efrafa, but is torn between his feelings for the free ways of Watership Down and his loyalty to his chief rabbit. He met Blackberry and it was love at first sight, but he sacrificed himself to save his chief from a cave in. He survived, albeit horribly scarred, and was taken to Darkhaven, as was Blackberry soon after, and they sealed their love in Darkhaven and escaped to Watership Down. He fought in the last battle against Woundwort. Afterwards, he and Blackberry settled down together.
Moss – a military rabbit who becomes leader of the Efrafa rabbits after the battle with the rabbits of Watership Down.
Vervain - a cowardly and sneaky rabbit, more adept at spying on others and threatening the weaker ones than in actual combat and is (next to Woundwort) the most hated and despised rabbit of the Watership Down story. Despite his shortcomings, Woundwort values him (though he would not show this) for his loyalty to him. Although Campion saved his life on more than one occasion, Vervain hates him with a passion and would like nothing better than to make Woundwort realize Campion is a traitor. Kehaar is particularly not fond of Vervain and calls him an 'ugly bunny'. After Efrafa's destruction, Vervain tries to live on his own but quickly loses hope, until he is saved by Woundwort from a weasel. Although somewhat shocked by his master's increasing madness, Vervain continues to serve him, though more out of fear than loyalty, and he secretly longs to lead a different life, even if such thoughts are futile. At the end, Vervain flees from the final battle and is not seen again.
Hickory - the leader of Redstone Warren and Marigold's mate. He and Marigold eventually joined the Watership Down rabbits.
Marigold - Hickory's mate and the mother of his kits.
Duster - the farm's dog. He first appears in the first episode "The Promised Land" where he chases after the rabbits but fails in the process. He then has a small appearance in the episode "The Raid" where he barks at Hazel as he escapes from the barn. He also appeared in the episode "A Tale of a Mouse" in which he is guarding the farm's vegetables. At the end of the episode, he chases after the farm's cat, Tabitha. Duster's breed is somewhat of a Rottweiler.
Tabitha - the farm's cat. She also first appears in the first episode "The Promised Land" where she attacks Kehaar when he is trying to steal her bowl of fish. She then had a larger role in two episodes, "The Raid" and "A Tale of a Mouse". In "The Raid", she tries to attack and eat Hazel, Fiver and Pipkin when they are trying to free the hutch rabbits but fails. In "A Tale of a Mouse", she goes after the rabbits again, and also after Hannah. At the end, she is chased by Duster around the farm. Tabitha appears again in "The Betrayal" when she attacks Spartina in a barn on Nuthanger Farm, and is driven off by Bigwig and the others. Tabitha's breed is somewhat of a Tabby Cat or a Calico. Unlike Duster, she can speak (except her appearance in "The Promised Land").
Spartina - one of Darkhaven's warrior does. She was chosen by Woundwort to trick the Watership Down rabbits into thinking that she is their friend, so she may spy on them and to find the location of their warren. However while she was there, Silverweed managed to see through her guise with his powers and she confessed everything to Hazel and the others, as she is beginning to have feelings for Bigwig. She returned to Darkhaven, in order to save Blackberry from being killed by Granite (under her orders), but she is soon held prisoner along with her. However she managed to escape along with Campion and Blackberry and aided the Watership Down rabbits in their fight against Woundwort. She settles down with Bigwig at Watership Down after the final battle.
Granite - the chief of Darkhaven before losing his title to Campion during combat (of which later Campion gave the title to Woundwort as soon as he arrived at Darkhaven). Granite is no doubt one of the warren's strongest rabbits. He was instructed by Spartina to kill Blackberry by the next full moon, however since Blackberry once saved his life, Granite was unable to perform the deed, meaning that he does have a sense of honor. When the Black Rabbit of Inlé was summoned by Silverweed, Granite fled for his life, leaving his fate unknown.
Shale - a rabbit from the Darkhaven Owsla who followed General Woundwort's orders to destroy Watership Down. In the final battle, he, along with Feldspar and the rest of the Darkhaven rabbits, were taken by the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
Felspar - a rabbit from the Darkhaven Owsla who follows General Woundwort's orders to destroy Watership Down. He is always seen with Granite, Spartina and Shale. In the final battle, he, along with Shale and the rest of the Darkhaven rabbits, were taken by the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
Speaker of the Past - a rabbit who teaches other rabbits about Darkhaven and how it was made. When the law of trying to heal the weak is broken, she cannot protect a student who violated it. During the last battle at Watership Down, her fate is left unknown.
It has also been suggested that some of the new characters in the series serve as the book's counterparts: Primrose, Spartina and Moss play similar roles to those of Hyzenthlay, Thethuthinnang and Groundsel, and to a certain extent, numerous Darkhaven rabbits match up to the personalities and descriptions of Efrafans in the book; for example, Shale could be a version of captain Orchis.
- Season 1 aired 28 Sep 1999 - 21 Dec 1999
- Season 2 aired 3 Aug 2000 - 26 Oct 2000
- Season 3 aired 11 Sep 2001 - 4 Dec 2001
The full series (all three seasons) can be seen on YouTube.
The official soundtrack for the series was produced by Mike Batt with the aid of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He had also gathered an array of stars to provide their voices for some of the songs. As well as Stephen Gately performing Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel who had sung Bright Eyes for the film sang When You're Losing Your Way In The Rain, Cerys Matthews from the group Catatonia performed Thank You, Stars which was used in the series as a romance theme for Hazel and Primrose and Paul Carrack from the group Mike and the Mechanics performed Winter Song, though the song wasn't used, an instrumental piece was in the Winter on Watership Down two parter. Mike himself sang for the soundtrack, performing the song A View From A Hill which oddly enough was used in the series, but only in the German version and sung by an uncredited singer, and British voice actor Gary Martin provided the narration for the story of Frith's Blessing for the original release of the CD soundtrack, though in the TV series, it was Dandelion who told the tale of Frith's Blessing. The soundtrack has just recently been re-released as part of the Mike Batt Music Cube released in December 2009 by Dramatico Records. However only the orchestral pieces are on the CD and none of the recorded songs are present, probably due to copyrights involving many of the guest singers and their record labels and perhaps due to the death of Stephen Gately. The re-released soundtrack has recently became available separately from the Cube in a 2 CD set, along with the soundtrack to the film Caravans.
Differences from the novel
Although the story was broadly based on that of the novel, with most characters and many incidents retained, there was an increasing divergence as the series went on, and in later episodes especially some storylines and characters were entirely new.
- El-ahrairah's name was shortened in the series to El-ahrah.
- Hyzenthlay was replaced by a character called Primrose, and her connection to Efrafa was replaced by a heritage in a warren called Redstone.
- Fiver's power of prescience became more prominent than in the book and film; he goes blank with visions, sometimes telepathic, instead of simply delivering omens, and also speaks mostly in rhyme while in this state (though he speaks normally otherwise).
- Kehaar, in direct contrast to the book, severs his gull-like instincts and becomes attached to the Watership rabbits, even pushing aside his own kind at one point.
- A few new characters were added, for instance Captain Broom, Granite, Moss, and Spartina.
- Blackberry was changed from a buck rabbit to a doe.
- Woundwort's backstory was altered to include a connection to a warren called Darkhaven.
- This is the first time Hawkbit, Strawberry and Silverweed have appeared in an adaptation (all of them appear in the miniseries), and the first time Vervain and Campion play major roles.
- The character Silverweed was given abilities similar to Fiver's and was turned into a main character for the 3rd season, unlike the novel in which he was a minor character.
- Blackavar is still alive, in contrast to the film in which he was killed by Woundwort (that is a film invention, as he survived in the book. Also his ears are intact; the book and the film both depict them as having been torn by the Efrafan Owslafa.)
- The violence is extremely toned down compared to the book and the movie, even though Season 3 had a darker tone compared to Season 1 & 2.
- The major character of Hannah the female mouse was added for the series. Although a male mouse does appear in the novel as a minor character, his personality is much meeker than Hannah's and he speaks with an Italian accent, while Hannah has a British one like the rabbits.
- Captain Vervain is differs from his depiction in the book and he is given a more sly and cowardly personality.
- Some of the charaters from the book do not appear.
- Bob is replaced by a dog named Duster.
- Some of events that happen in the book either do not happen or take place at a different time than from the book. An example being Cowslip's Warren which is encountered after the main characters find Watership Down unlike the novel where they encounter it first.
- Woundwort's defeat is entirely different than in the original book. In the book, he and the dog lunge at each other with his fate undetermined, but in the series he and the other Efrafan soldiers are taken away by the Black Rabbit of Inle.
- This is the only time in the franchise where the rabbits learn the name "Watership Down".
- Two warrens that did not appear in the original book were added: Redstone and Darkhaven. The Redstone warren was dug beneath the remnants of an ancient Celtic stone circle by a band of regular rabbits, but was invaded by an Efrafan patrol. The Darkhaven warren was located beside a burning tire yard with a large pit where the rabbits, extremely vicious in nature, would battle for the position of Chief Rabbit.
In 2000, Enesco produced a collection of Figurines and picture frames. As well as a money bank and clock. The 10/11 characters produced into figurines are: Bigwig, BlackBerry, Dandelion, Fiver, General Woundwort, Hawkbit, Hazel, Kehaar and Hannah, Pipkin, and Primrose. Picture frames: Primrose, Kehaar and Hannah, Hazel and Fiver, just Hazel, and just Fiver. Scene ordainments include: Pipkin, Fiver and Bigwig playing by a log, and Hazel holding a dandelion with Primrose. Their is also a Fiver money bank and clock.
Weetos Cereal Toys
In 2000, Weetos produced 6 collectible toys in cereal boxes. The collectible characters were: Bigwig, Hazel, Fiver, Pipkin, General Woundwort, and Kehaar. The figures were made in the UK and stood at 2” tall. There is a French commercial called The Pirates of Watership Down and can be watched here.
German video games
Three video games for the PC were made in 2001, but only released in the German language for some reason. The series is called "Unten Am Fluss"
- Auf der Suche nach dem Watership Down ("In Search of Watership Down")
- Neues Zuhause - Neue Gefahren ("New Home - New Dangers")
- Die Befreiung der Stallkaninchen ("The Liberation of the Stable Rabbits")
Diane Redmond picture books
Diane Redmond has a picture book spin-off of the television series and each book has 24 pages each. There are sketchy illustrations for the characters and detailed watercolor backgrounds that fade into white with dialogue text.
- Fiver's Dream
- Pipkin Makes a Friend
- Bigwig Learns a Lesson
- Hazel the Brave
- Hazel Raids the Farm
- Primrose's Great Escape
- Fiver's Bad Luck
- Hawkbit's Discovery
The Winter Adventure
The Winter Adventure is based off of the Frithmas-special, Winter on Watership Down. It comes in a box set and has an additional mini snow-globe with Pipkin, Hazel and Fiver with a bush behind them and has a red brim.
Judy Allen chapter books
Judy Allen has a chapter book spin-off of the television series. Each book has approximately 73 pages each and the pages have black, lined illustrations of the scenes.
- Escape to the Hills
- Rabbits in Danger
- We Need More Rabbits!
- Challenge to Efrafa
- The Hidden World
- Friend and Foe
- Prisoner of Efrafa
- Rabbits Betrayed
- Bigwig's motto for the Owsla is "Who Dares Wins", the motto of the SAS. The phrase was also used as an epigraph for the first story in Tales from Watership Down.