Director Noam Murro takes us down the rabbit hole of his all-star Watership Down reboot
Rabbit, yup, yup, yup, rabbit, rabbit, bunny, rabbit, rabbit, yup, rabbit.
“i didn’t see Watership Down as a child so I didn’t have the opportunity to be shellshocked by it. I guess I’m the anomaly,” laughs Noam Murro, director of this month’s glossy animated revisit of Richard Adams’ seminal children’s book. This joint Christmas present from the BBC and Netflix marks the first major retelling of Adams’ politically charged tale of rabbits seeking solace amid the perils of man and nature. It follows Martin Rosen’s notoriously bloody and haunting 1978 edition, which featured the voices of John Hurt and Richard Briers.
Cut to 2018 and James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Rosamund Pike and Sir Ben Kingsley are among the impressive line-up of talent leading Murro’s new four-episode series. Impressive – but it was an easy sell for all involved.
“Everyone who participated had an incredible understanding of the material, its importance and their relationship as children, adults and as British to this text,” Murrow tells Red Alert a few weeks before the show’s Christmas debut. “James was the first to be approached and when he received the script he was wearing an old Watership Down t-shirt. He’d studied it and had a very profound understanding of the story.” Joining rabbit leader Fiver (McAvoy) and his clairvoyant brother Hazel (Hoult) in their warren-on-therun is an ensemble cast that includes Olivia Colman, Daniel Kaluuya and Peter Capaldi. However those still scarred by Rosen’s previous incarnation beware: Murro isn’t shying away from the darker side of this rabbit tale.
“The idea was always to be true to the book and do violence in a way that’s part of life,” the director says of the story’s bloodier moments. “I think that’s the beauty of Watership Down: it deals in a responsible way with violence and doesn’t negate it. The world is tough and we all face hardship – we just had to do it in a responsible way.”
This respectful tone is mirrored in the film’s elegantly animated aesthetics, which Murro explains were inspired by a very grounded source. “I was in New York’s Museum of Natural History and walked into the diorama room,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Wow – I don’t think that’s been done before,’ where you use the diorama feel. There was a very hard rule when we were making Watership Down that we weren’t going to put the camera where it couldn’t be in real life. If I couldn’t shoot it in live action, I wouldn’t be doing it in animation.”
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This mature look and sense of responsibility for Adams’ work sets the scene for some festive viewing that’ll do a bit more than keep us entertained after we’ve scoffed too much Christmas cake – Murro hopes to get us
thinking, too. “The basic story – which for me has always been a post-war dystopian novel in the same vein as George Orwell’s Animal Farm – is universal and timeless,” he suggests. “The ideas of home, migration, who we are, how we describe ourselves as a society and who is leading whom – all these questions are at the heart of this wonderful story and are still relevant. I think if you open the news today, you’ll understand why we’re making this series again.” SBl
Watership Down will air on BBC One over Christmas in the UK, and will stream on Netflix internationally.
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Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and co are all back for this remake. We’re hoping these bunnies are made of chocolate.