The Plague Dogs (1982)
Genre: Animation Adventure Drama
Starring: John Hurt (1984; The Elephant Man), Christopher Benjamin
Directed By: Martin Rosen (Watership Down)
Overview: Two dogs escape a vivisection laboratory. Their plan shifts between finding a master and fending for themselves, along with the help of a cunning fox, however rumours that they could be infected with the bubonic plague make them hunted prey.
Acting: Can you picture 1984's oppressed 'Winston' doing the voice of a dog? Not that surprising since he also did one of the rabbits in Watership Down (one of the best books ever). I even noticed the bit part played by Patrick Stewart. Either way, the voice acting in this is impressive, especially the fox and his accent and the animation style allows for some decent pantomime as well.
Cinematography: The animation is the sort that tries for hyper realism. Obviously it's not going to be all CGI Kaena-style but it's still amazing since there was no rotoscoping or computer special effects used. While you watch this you'll find the familiar cartoony style, but with the added element of a distinct 'mature' feel to it. For this sort of movie, it's just right.
Script: "They're not masters, Rowf. I had a master once, and I know. Whatever the whitecoats are, they're not masters." - Snitter
The fox they meet along the way has quite an old-style English way of speaking, a very old school and wise manner about him. Most of the time the lines that were spoken were pretty rote, but from time to time we got an interesting glimpse into characterization, I mean genuinely interesting and haunting words, like Snitter's bees buzzing in his head, and the touch of nightmarish madness he faces sometimes.
Plot: The story starts off with drowning Rowf and pretty much stays in the realm of bleak. If you've read or seen Watership Down, you'll find the very adult situations these animals are faced with as being stuck between a rock and a hard place. The tale of these two animals getting loose and trying to live like they should is a great character study and a nice commentary on both vivisection and social Darwinism. This is not some fluffy Homeward Bound piece. Because it's for mature audiences is why it's so damn good.
Mood: Unfortunately the 'good' version of this film adds another 10 minutes, but it was edited out for the kiddies. Why they would even bother doing such a thing when this is clearly not for children even after the fact makes me realize that it was done solely for the sake of toning down the tragedy. That, my friend, does not fly with me, hacking up the vision of the writer / director aside. If I had NOT known that this was edited, I would have said a little more would have been nice, but the tragic themes, overall, are well represented. Sucks to be a plague dog.
Overall Rating: 80% (No Need To Avoid This One)
Aftertaste: I rented this in hopes that it was the original edit, the long Australian pull-no-punches version. Well it wasn't, but I really am glad that I saw it. I can't say it's one of the films that I'll go on raving about, but as far as the animation goes, it's always nice when people make a good long hard effort to make something unique and special. Adding your own element to a thing, being creative and distinct, how can that ever be bad?