Over 50 years ago saw the publication of one of the most enduring and popular children’s books, Watership Down. Written by Richard Adams, the story follows a group of rabbits on their search for a new warren after their old one is destroyed by land developers. The rabbits face many dangers on their journey but through courage, ingenuity and teamwork find a new home.
Changes in Classification
The animated film adaptation of the classic tale was classified U in 1978 and features the vocal talents of a wide range of popular British actors such as John Hurt, Richard Briers, Ralph Richardson, Roy Kinnear and Hannah Gordon. The film was recognised as having enormous appeal to young audiences, many of whom were familiar with the book at the time.
Watership Down was also classified U on video in 1987, and again for DVD release in 2013.
While the film has a happy ending and contains many positive messages for young audiences about bravery, friendship and the environment, younger or more sensitive viewers have found some scenes upsetting or worrying. Over the years the BBFC has received numerous complaints about the suitability of Watership Down at U. In the original examiner’s report (available to view in this Case Study) written upon classification of the film in 1987, an examiner suggests that, ‘Animation removes the realistic gory horror in the occasional scenes of violence and bloodshed, and we felt that, while the film may move children emotionally during the film’s duration, it could not seriously trouble them once the spell of the story is broken’.
While the animated depiction of violence and threat can, in some cases, add counterbalance or function as a distancing effect that helps to soften the impact of such issues, there has been significant changes to our classifications since Watership Down was first submitted to the BBFC. Indeed, all our classification decisions are shaped by people’s opinions, and are regularly updated in order to reflect how things may have changed over time.
The most recent submission of Watership Down in 2022, saw the animated adventure passed at PG for the first time in the film’s history – over 44 years after its first release on film. This change in classification from a U to a PG is in line with our Classification Guidelines and is accompanied by the content advice of: ‘mild violence, threat, brief bloody images, language’.
Current BBFC Classification Guidelines state that:
‘A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Unaccompanied children of any age may watch, but parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset younger or more sensitive children.’
For more information about the classification issues in Watership Down, see our content advice.