martes, 28 de octubre de 2014

Watership Down

I widely considered the movie Watership Down as being one of the biggest mistakes in my life. I mean, it’s a masterpiece and was way ahead of its time in terms of animation, but I’m just too soft to truly enjoy what I had to offer... I don’t really enjoy all that gore in my animation movies, and I was uncomfortable during the whole thing. That said, I’m really glad I just asked my senses to shut up when I found this new incarnation... because it was the equivalent of digging up gold from a swamp.

This new version came up in late 1999 in the UK, and was wise enough to tone down all the «violent» elements of the original material in order to exist as a kids show. For example: we -mostly- don’t see Fiver’s visions anymore, and he describes them in a very simple way... you can still see he is having a horrible time processing them in his brain, but nothing like the -most adult- movie. But before anyone say it, there is still much of the craziness that was left intact (we even got to see some crude battles). I’m glad that the cartoon makers didn't play it safe here, because the whole thing would have felt unnecessary that way.

The series begin with a handful of rabbits leaving their doomed home in the search for greener pastures. The original setting they gave to this first episode (wisely named «The Promised Land») it’s so darn fitting because it has that Watership Down atmosphere right off the bat. They did make the characters look a LOT more cartoony, yes, but that only adds to the atmosphere, as they all have their signature attitudes and designs. Those first couple of episodes work in two ways: first of all, they set the mood for the rest of the series: «everything that’s not us, it’s out there to kill us». And last but not least: they magnifically introduce a lot of new characters that don't really exist anywhere else (or were changed for this particular series). Let me talk about some of these guys for a minute.

Even when the whole cast ranges from «okay» to «fantastic» there is a handful of characters that stand out for me among the broader elements of the series, and those would be: Kehaar, Hannah, Strawberry, Blackberry and Bigwig.

The name of the first one should be familiar to anyone who watched the aforementioned movie, and he is still as dimwitted as he ever was (with the addition of his phrasing, that has not improved at all since, keeping that Yoda-like speaking). Kehaar would eventually gain notoriety throughout the series, and he truly deserved it.

Hannah is a brand new addition to the series (and one that doesn’t stink, I should add) she is best friends with Keehar, and the one who looks after the duo’s well being. She is really smart and brave (despite being a mouse) and plays a big part in the whole shtick of the duo’s existence: impress Bigwig and the rest of the rabbits, proven that they are usefull. They will go as far as risking their lives (individually and at the same time alike) just to show how useful they could be -and usually getting unenthusiastic replies for all their trouble -specially from Bigwig--. That makes for a really fun pair that borrows some ideas from other series I like (like Hannah travelling onto Keehar, for example) and even when this show doesn’t do any attempt of humor, they are responsible for a big number of hilarious situations.

Strawberry is a character that really impresses me. He lived his entire life in an underground warren, being forbidden to leave because it was surrounded by death traps placed by a nearby human. He has seen a lot of his comrades being choked to death and the rest doing nothing to help them (going as far as to forget they have ever existed alongside them). Besides of all that, he is suffering for all the consequences of an underground life: his eyes doesn’t work properly in day light, his fur has gotten dark, and his ears are used to echo sounds. He is a total mess at that point, so it isn’t that much of a surprise that he runs off when he sees the chance... just to celebrate his liberty being no use at all for his new comrades, who watch him sleep on the grass all day long. He is a really good character because all that was mentioned above but also because everyone else tend to forgive his lazyness, acknowledging that he was living a horrible life. It took a lot of gut from the creators to do something like this in a kid’s show, so... kudos to them for pulling it out.

There is really no much to be said about Blackberry: for a long of time she is the only doe in the warren, and the males have acknowledged her as to be their digging machine, a situation she would not tolerate. She is, however, widely recognized as being the smartest thing around (and is responsible for a number of ingenious ideas) but, unfortunately, she is pretty much doomed to be a background character for most of the series.

Bigwig is a lot of fun. He is brave and loyal, but has a fair share of «old school» thinking, refusing to believe that anything that is not a rabbit can be useful -even when he is proven wrong over and over-. I just love how stubborn he might be when both Keehar and Hannah -unintentionally- push him to his limit (almost a running gag on the show). He is also very sceptical about Fiver's visions and other important matters on the warren, but was granted power anyway, because is the only one who knows how to fight. Such a great character.

As the series progresses, all the events will turn more and more into a sequel to the movie, featuring some really dark moments and a fair amount of death. It also has some of the same inconsistency that the source material back in the day had. Some of the characters remain MIA for lots of time, while others never leave the limelight (and it isn't always a case of top and low tier characters, it’s completely random). But yeah, the cartoon features some obscure moments and has a cool feeling to it. I think it even is a fair representation of what the life in the wild should be (except for the military kind of battles, I mean). The predators are there, nobody is in the position to do everything they want, and there are cruel punishments for simple mistakes. I like it.

Too bad the main antagonists are not nearly as engaging as they were in the movie (but kind of disturbing, actually) and that the show suffered a radical change of direction in later seasons that I don’t really appreciate. Still, the all-star voice acting cast (which would later be replaced) makes all the inhabitants of this world look and sound a lot more solid than they are.

All things considered, I think I can get to the -unexpected- conclusion that Watership Down is the BEST show I have seen in 2014 (and keep in mind that this was the year in which I finally gave shows such as Animaniacs! a go). There's just so much I like about it, and it even fights a great battle with Legends of Treasure Island to be my all-time favorite british cartoon. Period.

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