Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Plague Dogs (1982)

I knew this was going to be a tough film to watch. It was from the makers of Watership Down (which I still haven't seen . . . . . . yet), and it was a movie that left an impression on most who saw it. Well, from the very first scene, it soon became apparent that this IS a tough film to watch. Very, very tough.

Not recommended for animal lovers or very young children, The Plague Dogs is a dark adventure story about two dogs who escape from a research lab. Both have endured numerous horrors, all in the name of science, at the hands of "the white coats" and neither dog wants to end up back in that situation. Ever. Not really sure of what to do out in the wild, the two escapees end up receiving guidance from a canny fox. Meanwhile, a search is organised and it looks like time is running out for the furry fugitives.

Based on the novel by Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs was adapted into movie form and directed by Martin Rosen, and the man doesn't pull any punches. It's hard to imagine people thinking of this being pitched to younger viewers, but it's also admirable that the subject matter has been dealt with in a way that will cause all viewers to be upset by what they see, and to consider just how animals are inconsiderately, and sometimes cruelly, treated.

The animals are easy to sympathise with, and easy to root for, without being transformed into anthropomorphic Disney creations. Voiced by John Hurt and Christopher Benjamin, both of the dogs are likable without ever being made cute. The bigger dog, especially, has moments in which it snaps at humans, but with good reason. Anybody/anything would react in the same way after such maltreatment. The fox (voiced by James Bolam) is a bit harder to warm to, seemingly sneaky and selfish on occasion, but as the movie develops it becomes easier to understand him, and to realise that he's just acting according to his nature.

Parents will want to vet this one, no pun intended, before deciding whether or not to let youngsters watch it, but I hope that most people realise how good, how worthwhile, it is. It's the kind of family film that we don't really see any more in the timid, sanitized products that tend to rule the box office nowadays (with one or two exceptions). I encourage families to watch the film together, to deal with the emotional turbulence, and to then discuss it after the end credits roll.



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