The Plague Dogs

The Plague Dogs ★★★★

Once again director Martin Rosen adapts a mature and disturbing animal story from famed author Richard Adams and brings us one of the most beautiful "downers" of all time. This animated study of cruelty, aggression and survivals was the released by MGM after the critical and financial success of Watership Down a few years earlier, but this time with more awareness of it's content - having been released with a PG-13 rating once it hit home video a couple years after it's theatrical release. Hard to find for many years, with the advent of streaming and the popularity of obscure films becoming more and more sought after by boutique collectors - we finally have the chance to re-experience this film in all its glory.

The film starts off with a disturbing scene of animal cruelty as researchers test the endurance of Rowf - a black lab who has been forced to swim in a deep pool until the verge of drowning. This is done repeatedly, thus causing Rowf to fear both water and humans. He returns to his kennel where his friend Snitter - a small terrier has been an experiment of brain surgery - leaving him with anxiety and fits of hallucinations. Due to a careless janitor not checking the locks - the two escape into the countryside. With no natural predatory instincts, they are doomed to starve until the meet a wild fox named Tod - who shows them the ropes of how to hunt domestic sheep without being discovered by humans. The dogs however become careless and bloodthristy- killing sheep at will and drawing the attention of local farmers - who in turn have linked the green collars that the dogs wear to the military research center that they escaped from. To avoid scandal of escaped dogs killing farmers sheep, the military decides to tell the public that the dogs may have the plague - and to stay away while the military handles the situation. The Tod - whose uneasy alliance with the dogs has caused tension amongst the group - decides to help them escape - but with the hordes of English Soldiers scouring the countryside to hunt the dogs down - is there really any escape? Watch and find out.

Written as a cautionary tale / expose on the cruelty to animals in research centers of the time- the themes of loyalty and loss of natural instinct are subjects that this film dives deep into. The film was well received - however like Watership Down - was criticized for it's dark themes and violent content. Thus it was released in several versions. One version runs 86 minutes and has obvious cuts and fades that don't really effect the story- they mostly reduce runtime and back away from some of the more grizzly moments- such as additional human deaths caused by the dogs and an allusion to the fact they have in fact devoured a human corpse. Grizzly and sad - this film is not for all tastes but once again is a triumph of story telling through animation. Check it out!