Written, Produced and Directed by Martin Rosen
After one of them has a vision, a group of rabbits flee a doomed warren in search of a new home. Along the way the face many dangers as they try to establish their refuge.
The film opens with a telling of the rabbit creation myth. You learn about their god Frith (Michael Hordern) and the rabbit prince El-Ahrairah. All animals lived in harmony. Rabbits were fruitful and multiplied and because there were so many, and they ate so much there was a food shortage for the other animals. Frith asked El-Ahrairah to get his people under control and when he disregarded the request, Frith created predators to do the control for him. He and his people were given a bright white tail with which to warn of danger as well as speed and cunning. This is a pretty downbeat mythology but one that sets the tone of the film
Psychic rabbits with visions of death and destruction. That is definitely not something most expected out of an animated film released at the time. You expected bouncy superficial stories with anthropomorphic animals singing happy songs. Not here.
The psychic rabbit Fiver (Richard Briers) is perhaps one of the more haunted and tormented animated characters I’ve ever seen. You get the feeling he is not comfortable at all with his abilities. He finds them upsetting. And being foisted with these disturbing visions of doom is all the more traumatic for him.
Fiver is protected and comforted somewhat by his older brother Hazel (John Hurt). Hazel’s role throughout the film is that of leader.
The voice talent in the film were all extremely talented. They were perhaps better known to British audiences than they were to American audiences. John Hurt and Denholm Elliott (Cowslip) are probably among the two best known voice actors here. You may not recognize their names, but you certainly know their faces when they get up on the screen. Both have been in plenty of very successful films. Zero Mostel (Kehaar) was probably the name best known to American audiences at the time and his star had faded a little bit from its height back in the day.
The film is very dark. Much darker than any animated movie released at the time and significantly darker than any animated film released now. It didn’t shy away from the source and because of that fact it could give a kid or two a nightmare. They showed blood and death on the screen. They get run over or a predator gets them and that’s it. Death is often quick and abrupt. It’s a credit to the creative minds behind this movie that they kept with the book as much as they did.
The animation is done in a realistic manner. Obviously there are some allowances for them to be able to look as if they are genuinely speaking dialogue but nothing is done in a cartoonish fashion. It’s truly a beautiful animated feature. Films like this are one reason I prefer hand-drawn animation over the current crop of CGI. This is actual art.
The film’s theme “Bright Eyes” is rather melancholy but perfectly reflects the ending of the film as Hazel, having secured a prosperous future for his new warren, follows the Black Rabbit (Joss Ackland) and dies of what amounts to old age. The song is beautiful but quite sad. However, it effectively encapsulates the tone of the film.
The film is a dark animated classic. It’s got a good story and is beautifully drawn. It will pull you in and keep hold until the end. It’s like nothing else and well worth a watch.