The Plague Dogs (1982)

The Plague Dogs (1982) movie poster

director Martin Rosen
viewed: 05/02/2014

From the same director and animation team that had brought out the adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen returned to the well of Adams’ novels for The Plague Dogs.

As a kid, I LOVED Watership Down, and I did pick up a couple more of Adams’ books, The Plague Dogs and Shardik, and though I tried reading them, I think I made it about halfway through the former and hardly at all through the latter.  And it was only much later in life that I even heard about the animated feature film.  I would have been super thrilled to have seen it back then.

But now is now and I chose to watch it with Felix and Clara.  They didn’t have much context for it, other than its relationship to Watership Down as I’ve mentioned.

It’s a dark story of its own.  About a black lab and a terrier that escape an English animal testing facility and run rampant in the hills of the Lake District.  They befriend a fox, who helps teach them to survive, while the men in lab coats pursue them and the farmers hunt them for killing their sheep.

The dogs and fox speak, and the story is told from their perspective, kind of like Watership Down, where the animals have the understanding of the world as they know it.  They don’t really understand that they were being cruelly experimented on or to what ends.  And Rosen only fills in the blanks from the humans in aside conversations and bits and bobs that suggest that the regular folk didn’t know exactly what was going on at the facility either.

In the end, it is a rather dark story, with a pretty grim ending.  A film against vivisection but a “story” first and foremost.  The animation is limited in execution, but vivid and quite unusual in style.  There is a painterly quality to the cel work, quite different from anything else I can think of than Rosen’s other film.

It’s an earnest film, far from cloying or even far from anything else of the period in feature animation.  I don’t think that the story has the impact of Watership Down, but as I’ve noted, I have always been very effected by that book and film, so it’s a rather tough comparison point.  The kids appreciated the film, Clara in particular because she is pretty crazy about dogs.  It’s an interesting and good film, if not a “must see”.

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