“John Hubley started the film as director, and we did an hour of the film which was not usable. An hour! I can tell you that was deadly. You see, John was here for three weeks and away for four, back for four and away for three, and he alternated like that, but it didn’t work! He lost contact and the film was bitty. It was very sad. Phil was a very nice chap.”
Much of the hour’s work was scrapped and a fresh start made. Tony Guy came in as replacement director and four years after the first storyboard the film was completed.
Watership Down was premiered 19th October 1978; and it became painfully obvious after reading the critic’s reviews that they had read the book first. In its 500-or-so pages the author Richard Adams had been able to spend time introducing the characters and developing the story in detail. The 92 minute film could only be a condensation of that work. Zero Mostell was praised for his vocal talents as Kehaar the friendly gull, and the Guardian critic described the music as ‘fun’, but for all that they were subdued and guarded in their praise. Happily, like its successors, Watership Down scored successes abroad, and this prompted Rosen to take his group of animators to America where they made Plague Dogs.
And now the Richard Williams studio had grown in prominence. After Love Me,
Love Me, Love Me Williams had taken the initiative and formed his own company. He made the inevitable commercials and then caused a stir with his animated titles for live-action films: The Charge of the Light Brigade, What’s New Pussycat?, Casino Royale, were just the beginning. Last year marked the 25th Anniversary of his London studio; 25 years in which he has won over 190 International Awards and consistently ploughed much of the studio’s profits into an Arabian Nights type fable now called The Thief Who Never Gave Up. Work on the feature length cartoon has been spread over many years but it was not until 1981 that outside backing was accepted. A major sponsor is still required to turn this great personal dream into a reality.
The scenes completed to date are powerful and dynamic, and make compelling viewing. The soundtrack is awesomely spell-binding, while the visuals are so full of inventive detail much will be missed at a single sitting. I vouch for the fact it is the most exciting animation I have ever seen. It must not be allowed to flounder for want of adequate backing.
The state of the art of British animation has never been so keenly honed as it is today. From humble beginnings it has grown in stature, finding expression in a hundred diverse ways, ably reflecting the many talents of artisans whose skill and zeal may be found imprinted on each and every frame of 35mm animated film. The scope of the genre is only just being realised and exploited. Where it will all lead is a matter for happy speculation.
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Printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 10 (Autumn 1984)