CALL FOR PAPERS: The Legacy of Watership Down: Animals, Adaptation, Animation

An interdisciplinary symposium

University of Warwick

Saturday 10th November 2018


Keynote speaker: Dr Chris Pallant (Canterbury Christ Church University)

2018 marks 40 years since the release of Watership Down, Martin Rosen’s acclaimed 1978 animated film. Adapted from Richard Adams’ 1972 children’s novel, it tells the tale of a group of anthropomorphised rabbits who flee the imminent destruction of their warren in search of a safe haven. In recognition of the film’s 40th anniversary, this one-day symposium seeks to foster academic discourse on this landmark of British animation from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

A beautifully-realised piece of animation, the film has inspired filmmakers including Guillermo del Toro, Wes Anderson and Zack Snyder. Yet the film is best remembered for its legendary status as an emotionally traumatic viewing experience, especially for children. This is in part due to Art Garfunkel’s tearjerker ‘Bright Eyes’, a hit single written for the film. Watership Down is also known for its graphic violence which seems directly at odds with its BBFC ‘U’ certificate (indicating that is suitable for all ages) and its subject matter of anthropomorphised rabbits. Thanks to this ambiguous status as a ‘children’s film’, Watership Down consistently remains the subject of public debate, as epitomised by public outrage in the UK over Channel 5’s decision to broadcast the film on the afternoon of Easter Sunday two years running. Conversely, the film has recently been raised in favourable comparison to the live-action/CG hybrid Peter Rabbit (2018), spurring questions surrounding the role of violence and matters of taste in children’s media. In addition, Watership Down bears timely socio-political relevance: it demonstrates the dangers of human impact upon the environment and the need to overcome totalitarian authority, as represented in the film by the fascistic villain General Woundwort. In an uncertain political climate that includes the rise of neo-Nazism, it seems more appropriate than ever to ask what audiences of adults and children alike can still learn from this landmark of British animation.

In light of the film’s continued relevance, this symposium seeks to explore the Watership Down’s ongoing cultural legacy and impact, 40 years since its first release. This may be in relation to the above themes, but this event also intends to broaden the dialogue beyond these headline-grabbing topics and draw attention to more overlooked aspects of the film’s form, aesthetics, and place in British cinema and animation history. Further possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Adaptation (including the film’s relationship with other adaptations of the novel)
  • Music and sound
  • Stardom and voice performance
  • Genre and generic hybridity (e.g. horror, fantasy, the epic, animal stories, children’s cinema)
  • Animal studies (especially representations of rabbits in popular/visual culture)
  • The relationship between animals, animation and children’s media
  • Representations of nature/the countryside
  • Eco-critical perspectives
  • Allegory
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Audience and memory studies
  • Fan studies
  • Meme studies
  • Folklore
  • Mortality and morality
  • Broadcast, classification and censorship
  • The work of Martin Rosen (i.e. Plague Dogs)
  • Influences upon Watership Down and its influence upon subsequent media

It is the intention that selected papers from the event will be published in the form of an edited book collection.

Please send 300-word abstracts (for 20-minute papers) with a short author biography to Dr Catherine Lester by 30th June 2018.

For further information please contact the above address or refer to the website or Twitter @watershipdown40.

Funded by the Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick.