"Watership Down" is that rare treat, a movie that appeals to both children and adults while insulting the intelligence of neither.

Admittedly, a movie about a tattered band of rabbits roaming the English countryside doesn't sound all that intriguing. But don't be put off what you may hear - producer Martin Rosen has avoided the obvious pitfall, cuteness, and it makes all the difference in the world.

The movie, an adaption of Richard Adams' best-selling novel of a few years back, is sort of a "Star Wars" for the nature set. It's got everything: love, hate, life, death, suspense, humor, epic battles, daring escapes.

The beauty is that the tale of the roving rabbits works at whatever level you want it to. Adams himself says it's a World War II allegory - the rabbits are supposed to be fictionalized versions of his fellow paratroopers from the Battle of Arnhem - and it's true there's a good assortment of fascist rabbits, victimized rabbits and daredevil rabbits. But it's also possible to enjoy the rabbit adventures on a basic good guys/bad guys levels.

Whatever level you pick, one thing is constant: There's more than a little violence in the movie. It's the neutral violence of nature, though, not the reasoned, malevolent violence of man usually found on the screen. Death, for example, is shown throughout the movie, but it's realistic, the type of death children see around them all the time: squashed animals on highways, birds pecking away dead fish, animals caught in traps. These are momentous occasions in the animal world, and no pont glossing over them.

And without being too heavy-handed about it, there are lessons to be learned. A hauntingly beautiful rabbit death scene at the movie's end has more impact than any lecture on death-as-a-part-of-life ever could. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

But the very best thing about "Watership," and one of the most refreshing,is the realistic, non-Disneyfied portrayal of the animals.

There are no perky, saucer-eyed bunnies in this film. Nor are there any wise-cracking mice, curly-lashed deers, slow-witted dogs or any of the other cliches of animaldom.

There are other classy touches: luminous, watercolory landscapes, an Art Garfunkel song, the voices of pros like Zero Mostel (his last role) and Sir Ralph Richardson. It'll renew your faith in cartoons.