Many of us may have read the Richard Adams book “Watership Down” or have seen the film adaptation, but less known is the film version of his even darker follow-up, “The Plague Dogs” (1982). Like a Disney film, it features anthropomorphized animals and lessons about friendship and courage, but less like Disney, it also has lessons about scientific cruelty, mass media hype, mental illness and mortality. Never in a Disney film would the protagonists be hunted by humans after narrowly escaping vivisection and possibly being exposed to bubonic plague, as happens to Rowf and Snitter, the main characters of The Plague Dogs. It’s an undeniably harrowing and sad story, but it’s also emotionally engaging, intelligent, unsentimental, and an underrated animated masterpiece.
Though The Plague Dogs may be suitable for some kids, it’s also for all film lovers because the artwork is beautiful and the voice acting is subtle yet emotive (especially the voice of John Hurt, who played Winston Smith two years later in a film version of “1984”). It even features a great theme song by Alan Price, former keyboardist for The Animals and best known by cult movie fans as the lead singer of the band featured in Lindsay Anderson’s “O Lucky Man”. Most importantly, The Plague Dog’s message of empathy and arguments for ethical considerations in science are as timely as ever.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Plague Dogs, I recommend this detailed review by the Film Walrus (though it’d be best to read only after watching the film as it reveals spoilers): http://www.filmwalrus.com/2008/08/review-of-plague-dogs.html