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article imageWhy 'Watership Down' should carry a 'parental guidance' warning

By Tim Sandle     Apr 3, 2016 in Odd News
The decision by the British broadcaster Channel 5 to screen the animated movie adaptation of 'Watership Down' over Easter has upset a number of families. This has led to a "review" of the movie's classification.
The 1978 film Watership Down, which was adapted from the book by Richard Adams of the same name, was shown by Channel 5 on Easter Day. At the time of the movie's release the book and its contents were perhaps better known. A new generation of families, perhaps less familiar with the naturalistic flavor of the book, watched the movie a little unprepared for some of the harsher elements, like watching the odd, cute-looking rabbit die.
Watership Down is a book aimed at younger readers, first published in 1972. The story features a small group of rabbits, anthropomorphized to have their own culture and language. The novel charts the adventure of the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a a new home. Here they encounter perils and temptations along the way. The book has become a set text in many schools.
The movie version was released in 1978, produced and directed by Martin Rosen. On its release the movie was relatively successful, particularly for an animated movie during this era. The soundtrack includes Art Garfunkel's British No. 1 hit, Bright Eyes.
A number of parents who sat down to watch the movie over Easter with their children, and those who simply left their children to their own devices, were upset over the depiction of the harsh conditions faced by the rabbits, including scenes of suffering and death. "Well done to whoever at Channel 5 decided that Watership Down was a nice Easter Sunday afternoon film to show," was the message one person sent to the television company via Twitter.
The complaints promoted the head of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to state the film's classification would be different, should it be assessed to day. This is surprising for a time when an old 'X' certificate movie might be seen as fairly low-key in the context of today's releases.
Movies shown in U.K. cinemas are afforded the following film classifications:
U for Universal, meaning all ages admitted;
PG for Parental Guidance, meaning all ages admitted, but some certain scenes can be unsuitable for young children.
12A for films that are considered to be unsuitable for young children. Children under 12 can only enter the cinema with a responsible adult. The rating defaults to '12' for home media releases, meaning no person under 12 can purchase a copy.
15, for movies suitable for people aged 15 and older.
18, for movies that suitable for people aged 18 or older, which means adults only. There is also an 18R category, for sex shops which imposes greater restrictions.
Watership Down was granted a 'U' certificate on release. BBFC director David Austin has since told the BBC that the film's violence was "arguably too strong" for it to be rated U now. "The film has been a U for 38 years, but if it came in tomorrow it would not be," adding that it would be given a PG rating today.
This declaration isn't popular with all. Film critic Henry Barnes, writing in The Guardian, said this was "meaningless pacification" and it was good for children to see some of the trials and tribulations of 'real life' at an earlier age.
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