I’ll start off spoiler-free, then warn you before I get there in case you don’t want me to tell you things. I get it.
I’m not usually into tearing down the creative work of others, and I’m not comfortable publicly bashing books I hate. Because maybe someone else loves it.
But I don’t feel like Netflix is going to worry too much about my opinion. And I adore Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I was so excited for the new animated series. I love James McAvoy. And I thought that John Boyega as Bigwig was going to be gold.
Whenever screenwriters adapt a book into a movie or TV series, things will have to change. It’s open to interpretation, and as two different mediums, they have different strengths. I get that.
For example (not a spoiler), they had more female characters in the Netflix version, and these female rabbits had some agency. In the book, they stuck more to the way rabbits in the wild act. Female rabbits having agency is fine and doesn’t have to change the story in a significant way. That was a good change.
I just feel like the screenwriters didn’t get the original book. And my reasons are all spoilers, either for the book or the series. You’ve been warned. Spoilers below the picture.
- All the rabbits fought with each other all the time. In the book, the rabbits bicker and fight in the beginning, but after they rescue Bigwig from the snare, they all acknowledge their strengths and start to act like a team. In the Netflix series, they continue bickering and acting like bratty children until the very end.
- Kehaar was a jerk. In the book, Kehaar is defensive and angry at first, making sure the rabbits know he can defend himself and is no one’s victim. But once he learns that he can trust them, he becomes an ally. He’s dependable, loyal, and helpful. In the Netflix series, he’s cagey and unreliable. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t.
- Bigwig was a bro. Who was the version of Bigwig in the series? The best things about the Bigwig of the books is that he’s tough but with a kind heart. He might complain about things, but he’s always the first one to volunteer to do anything difficult. And even though he’s big and could overpower Hazel in a fight, he’s willing to acknowledge that Hazel is the better leader. But in the Netflix series, he’s always spoiling for a fight, challenging Hazel and basically flexing his big muscles. What a waste of John Boyega.
- They seemed dumb. The rabbits in the book came up with plans and executed them. They were organized and worked together. The rabbits of the Netflix series were always reacting with no real idea of what was next.
- Why was there all this romance?? I love romance, and most of my favorite stories have romance, but not every story needs it. They gave the girl rabbits more agency and larger parts, which is 100% fine with me. But why did they have to make it all romantic with these love scenes between the various rabbit couples? It struck the wrong chord with me. Watership Down is an adventure story, and while I could get behind some sweet nose touching or some subtle signs of affection, speeches about how one rabbit loves the other in the middle of gearing up for battle just seemed out of place. Not going to lie, I yelled at the TV.
- I didn’t entirely understand why they changed certain things. I get it, they needed to change some things because it’s a different format and the book is pretty long. But why did Buckthorn and one of the other rabbits (Dandelion? Bluebell?) argue with one another all the time? And why was Bluebell the storyteller instead of Dandelion? And why did everyone just impulsively do things, like go to the farm and others to Efrafa? Would it really have made it that much longer for them to take a moment to plan to do it like in the book? What purpose did those changes serve to the story they were trying to tell?
- The ending didn’t do anything for me. Hazel died… so what? Now, maybe this is because I was mad at the rest of the series, but the ending just fell flat for me. I was so irritated by it that I took out my book and read the epilogue to my husband, who got a bit teary-eyed and agreed that the book version was much more touching.
This could have been something amazing, and they totally missed the mark. I’m so sad about it, but the writers didn’t seem to understand the characters. I kind of wished I hadn’t watched it because it just made me sad and angry. I know movie versions of beloved books are often not as good, but it doesn’t usually make me feel like this.
Did you watch the Netflix series? What did you think?