Rab­bit Re­dux

Richard Adams’ hugely pop­u­lar novel Wa­ter­ship Down is adapted into a stun­ning new four-part an­i­mated minis­eries, which ar­rives on Net­flix this month. By Tom Mclean

Animation Magazine - - Streaming -

Fan­tasy has a spe­cial power to both il­lu­mi­nate and en­ter­tain the young and the old equally. A look at any list of beloved tales across any sto­ry­telling medium will show the long­stand­ing power of tales as di­verse as Alice in Won­der­land, The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and the Harry Pot­ter se­ries.

It is re­spect for the power of this kind of story that led direc­tor Noam Murro to Wa­ter­ship Down, Richard Adams’ beloved 1972 novel about rab­bits seek­ing sur­vival, safety and a new home. Pre­vi­ously adapted as a pop­u­lar an­i­mated fea­ture film di­rected by Martin Rosen and re­leased in 1978 and as a TV se­ries that ran from 1999-2001, Murro has cho­sen a mid­dle ground for his adap­ta­tion: a minis­eries of four one-hour episodes pro­duced by the BBC and Net­flix, com­ing to screens glob­ally just in time for Christ­mas.

Adams’ novel is an un­usual text, telling the tales of a group of rab­bits who flee their war­ren be­fore it’s de­stroyed by mod­ern con­struc­tion and then strug­gle to find and es­tab­lish a new, safe home in the world. Along the way, Hazel, Fiver, Big­wig and friends ex­pe­ri­ence a range of en­coun­ters with hu­mans, other an­i­mals and even other rab­bits as they op­er­ate in a very hu­man-like power hi­er­ar­chy that de­cides who is wor­thy and who is not. The lengthy tale con­vinc­ingly cre­ates an en­tire world, com­plete with in­tri­cate rab­bit lan­guage and a de­tailed so­ci­ety and his­tory.

De­sign, art di­rec­tion and re­vi­su­al­iza­tion on Wa­ter­ship Down was done by Paint­ing Prac­tice in the U.K. Sto­ry­board­ing was by House of Cool in Canada and CG pro­duc­tion by Prana An­i­ma­tion Stu­dio in In­dia. The pro­ject is a 42/ Bis­cuit En­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion, pro­duced by Eleos Pro­duc­tions and co-pro­duced by Brown Bag Films.

Build­ing an Al­le­gor­i­cal World

Murro, who pre­vi­ously di­rected the live-ac­tion com­edy Smart Peo­ple and the se­quel 300: Rise of an Em­pire, never en­coun­tered the book (or Rosen’s movie) un­til a friend rec­om­mended it to him as an adult, but im­me­di­ately fell in love with it upon first read­ing. “There is an al­le­gor­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal and so­cial com­men­tary that’s em­bed­ded in [the story],” says Murro. “Part of the beauty of it is that it doesn’t show it, it doesn’t boast that part of it­self.”

Murro con­tacted Rosen, an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the se­ries, and ac­quired the rights to the pro­ject, in­tend­ing to ex­plore the deeper themes in the nar­ra­tive.

”The book is es­sen­tially a post-

Based on Richard Adams’ har­row­ing novel, Wa­ter­ship Down fol­lows a group of rab­bits as they es­cape the de­struc­tion of their war­ren. The voice cast in­cludes Ben Kings­ley, Olivia Col­man, John Boyega, Rosamund Pike, James Mcavoy, Taron Eger­ton, Peter Ca­paldi and Gemma Arter­ton.

World War II ac­count,” he says. “It lives in the same dystopian world of Ge­orge Or­well, in the sense that it does of­fer a win­dow into the world as it was back then, the world as it was when it was writ­ten in the 1970s, and cer­tainly what the world is to­day. Just turn on the news and lis­ten to that for 15 min­utes and you see, this book is rel­e­vant to­day. Mi­gra­tion, home, loy­alty, friend­ship, na­tion­al­ity — all these things that are re­ally at the heart of it are rel­e­vant to­day, maybe more so than at any other time.”

With the book so beloved, Murro says any adap­ta­tion will be scru­ti­nized by fans all over the world, re­quir­ing an ap­proach that was faith­ful to the text and to the themes it ex­plores. That lead to the idea of cre­at­ing a se­ries of four one-hour episodes, at least partly to tell the com­plete tale faith­fully.

”The BBC, I un­der­stood very quickly that they — won­der­fully so — feel re­spon­si­ble for this na­tional trea­sure, so to speak, and they want to do right by it,” says Murro. “There was never re­ally a dis­cus­sion of who was it for; that was al­ready de­ter­mined by the text. So the idea was to keep it faith­ful.”

A Fresh Can­vas ‘The movie is a dio­rama. It is a painted back­ground with ex­treme re­al­is­tic fore­ground, so there’s al­most three planes: the an­i­mals and char­ac­ters in the front, the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects of where this is hap­pen­ing, and then the back­drop.’

As a new­comer to a fully-an­i­mated pro­ject, Murro says he saw a large can­vas that had plenty of fresh ter­ri­tory to ex­plore by us­ing an­i­ma­tion to tell a straight dra­matic story us- ing tra­di­tional cin­e­matic tech­niques.

”In an­i­ma­tion, there is a danger where any­thing is pos­si­ble. Noth­ing re­ally ex­ists, so you can cre­ate any­thing, and I al­ways find that is a real danger,” says Murro. His ap­proach was to treat the show like it was real cin­ema: The cam­era could never be po­si­tioned any­where a real cam­era could not go, the vir­tual lenses would be based on real lenses, and the film would use con­ven­tional film sto­ry­telling tech­niques in its struc­ture, logic and tran­si­tions.

”That served a very spe­cific thing, which is the tone,” he says. ”That is how you do drama in cin­ema and it shouldn’t be any dif­fer­ent in cre­at­ing an­i­ma­tion, whether it’s rab­bits or peo­ple or whales or cars or what­ever it is. The idea was to cre­ate a very co­her­ent aes­thetic that serves A, story and B, tone. I think you can see it in it and that was quite an im­por­tant el­e­ment.”

Murro says the aes­thetic of the se­ries came from look­ing at dio­ra­mas, specif­i­cally the world-fa­mous dio­rama rooms at the New York Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum. “The movie is a dio­rama. It is a painted back­ground with ex­treme re­al­is­tic fore­ground, so there’s al­most three planes: the an­i­mals and char­ac­ters in the front, the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects of where this is hap­pen­ing, and then the back­drop.”

The an­i­mal char­ac­ters are gen­er­ally anatom­i­cally cor­rect and be­have only in ways that real rab­bits, birds, etc. would. Much of their dis­tinc­tive­ness as in­di­vid­u­als comes from the per­for­mance of the voice cast, which in­cludes James Mcavoy, Ni­cholas Hoult, John Boyega, Ben Kings­ley, Gemma Arter­ton, Daniel Kalu­uya and Rosamund Pike.

Murro says he wanted to make sure the story worked as a ra­dio play. “If it didn’t work as a ra­dio play, it wouldn’t work at all,” he says.

Work­ing in an­i­ma­tion was en­joy­able, but harder than ex­pected, Murro says. “You have to imag­ine a lot more than you do in live ac­tion, es­pe­cially if you’re try­ing to look like live ac­tion. Things take time, they are hard to change. You have to block things in your head be­cause there’s no lo­ca­tion … I didn’t think it would be that hard, and it was re­ally hard.”

“This is a per­fect ve­hi­cle for par­ents world­wide and peo­ple in gen­eral to have a dis­cus­sion with these themes of vi­o­lence and anger and jeal­ousy,” says Murro. “All those themes that are in the book are here [in the se­ries] and it’s for us to be able to not ig­nore them, put them aside or cover them, but to ex­pose them in a re­spon­si­ble way.” ◆

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.