Movie censors raise rating of Watership Down from U to PG

Watership Downer! Movie censors raise rating of classic children’s movie from U to PG because of its ‘violence, threat, injury detail and language’

  • Issues around ‘violence’ have seen the film reclassified at a higher age level

It has become one of the most famous animated films that Britain has produced in the last 50 years. 

But after years of controversy about just how child-friendly Watership Down actually is, censors have now hiked its rating from a U to a PG, it has emerged.

In the British Board of Film Classification’s annual report, released today, it was revealed that issues around ‘violence, threat, injury detail and language’ in the 1978 version had seen it reclassified at a higher age level.

The animated adventure drama – based on the 1972 book by Richard Adams – has been the subject of ‘numerous complaints’ to the film classification body over the years.

Watership Down follows a group of rabbits who look for a safe-haven after their burrow is destroyed to make way for a housing development. On their journey, they encounter dangerous enemies and violent confrontations.

Movie censors raise rating of classic children’s movie Watership Down (pictured) from U to PG

The animated adventure drama – based on the 1972 book by Richard Adams – has been the subject of ‘numerous complaints’ to the film classification body over the years

The film has in the past shocked parents with its harrowing scenes, which includes bloodied rabbits fighting each other.

In the annual report, the BBFC gave an explanation of its decision to alter the classification of the film, which is about one hour and 40 minutes in length.

READ MORE: Furious parents blast Channel 5 for airing Watership Down on Easter Sunday because ‘traumatised’ children didn’t know it featured slaughter of rabbits

It described the early scene of the burrow being destroyed as a ‘distressing sequence’.

The BBFC added that during the film there were ‘bloody bite and claw injuries caused by animals fighting’ and that in another scene a bird is seen telling the rabbits to ‘p**s off’.

In the report, the BBFC said: ‘Whenever a distributor resubmits a film with an existing BBFC rating to us, we review it under our current guidelines.

‘This sometimes means we may reclassify the film at either a higher rating or a lower rating than it was under previous guidelines.

‘One example is Watership Down, which we had classified U for its theatrical release in 1978 and which retained that rating on subsequent home entertainment releases.’

It added: ‘When we viewed the film under the current guidelines, we reclassified it PG in line with our current policies for violence, threat, injury detail and language.’

The film – starring the voices of John Hurt and Richard Briers – was released in October 1978 and in 1979 was classed at the sixth most popular film of the year based on UK box office figures.

When asked about how many complaints the BBFC had received about the film in the past, spokesman for the body, said: ‘To confirm, the BBFC has received numerous complaints about the suitability of Watership Down at U over the years.’

The report said ‘audience expectations change over time’ and this was reflected in ‘how we handle older films’, adding that under ‘current standards’ Watership Down should be classed as PG.

One parent has previously pointed out that Watership Down is hardly a new film, airing most years since the Seventies

PG films are regarded as suitable for general viewing but that ‘some scenes may be unsuitable for young children’. The BBFC says a PG film should not ‘unsettle a child aged around eight or older’.

The BBFC describes a U rating film as being ‘suitable for audiences aged four years and over’ and should be ‘set within a positive framework’ with ‘counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror’.

In 2016, the head of the film classification body, David Austin, admitted that Watership Down would be regarded as being too violent to receive a U rating these days. He said ‘standards were different’ in 1978.

This came after parents had reacted to the film after it had aired on Channel 5 at 2.25pm on Easter Sunday.

A BBFC spokesman said: ‘In 2022, we classified Watership Down PG for ‘mild violence, threat, brief bloody images, language’.

‘The BBFC originally gave Watership Down a U rating when it was first released in 1978.

‘When the film was resubmitted to us for classification in 2022, we viewed it against our current Classification Guidelines.

‘Accordingly, we reclassified Watership Down from U to PG, reflecting how audience perspectives have changed over time.’

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