Young son and mother watching TV together while sitting on couch

The animated film Watership Down (1978) has been reclassified from U to PG by the BBFC after 45 years of supposedly ‘traumatising’ child viewers with its graphic depictions of rabbits being maimed and killed.

Contrary to popular belief, Watership Down was never intended by its director Martin Rosen to be a ‘children’s film’. But the fact that so many children have watched it, and many of them have been profoundly affected by it (not just ‘traumatised’), challenges our conventional expectations of children’s films, animation, and children as a social group. Arguably, the BBFC made the right decision in 1978, as PG did not yet exist. The U rating acknowledged that Watership Down has value for viewers of all ages. However, the updated PG rating recognises that childhood is a diverse life stage, with children of different ages requiring different levels of emotional intensity from what they watch.

Perhaps the PG rating will allow more children – and also adults who have not revisited the film since childhood – to engage with the film and its important messages about bravery, community and respect for the natural environment when they are ready for it. Those who do may find that Watership Down has much more to offer than just bloody bunnies.