Almost all of the major characters in this 1978 animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel are rabbits living in the English countryside, but we’re a long way from Beatrix Potter territory. The rabbits here live in a world that might have been envisioned by Darwin, Orwell, and William Golding working together: a totalitarian police state where rabbits fall prey to ruthless predators, including humans, dogs, and other rabbits. Our heroes manage to escape and found their own warren on the idyllic hillside of the title, but even that community threatens to become just like the one they fled.
The movie has earned acclaim over the years for its vivid animation, its master-thespian voice cast (made up of British Shakespeareans like John Hurt, Richard Briers, Nigel Hawthorne, and Ralph Richardson, as well as Yank import Zero Mostel, as a gull, in his final role), and its complex and bloody allegory of human civilization. But it’s also disappointed or frightened many an unwary parent and child who saw a bunny on the poster and expected something a lot more benign and kid-friendly. No wonder the film is referenced in Donnie Darko.