Well, filmmaker Martin Rosen sure hasn’t moved on to shinier, happier territory with “Plague Dogs.” Released about five years after “Watership Down,” “Plague Dogs” proves that Rosen’s tragic rabbit adventure wasn’t just a bad mood. He has a thing for the animals and it runs so deep that his art will make you feel ashamed to be a human being.
In “Plague Dogs,” two test lab canines escape their prison for one more taste of freedom before finding themselves hunted down by their captors. With the help of a shifty fox, the two dogs learn how to exist as wild animals, living off of the land and killing for the sake of sustenance. But when it’s discovered that the test lab has lost two dogs that very well may be carrying the bubonic plague, the hunt grows more intense and so do the animals’ intense living conditions.
While “Plague Dogs” is an animated film from the ’80s, this is no Looney Tune. It is, however, one of the best definitions of a “family film” I’ve ever seen. It’s not a “family film” in the sense that it’s something for the family unit to throw on that’s just so brainless as to distract them from their own familial problems, nor is it a video babysitter for the yunguns while mommy or daddy go out and spend all their money. This is a family movie for the entire family to experience together and then talk about afterwards. Not in an awkward type reaction to a bad “Afterschool Special,” but in the way that the younger viewers may want to know why there weren’t any funny characters even though they’re all cartoons and why there was so much death and hatred involved. The older viewers can then turn to the young ones and tell them all about how this world we live in f*****g sucks. Perhaps then maybe they’ll grow to be actual upstanding citizens rather than the average run-of-the-mill morons we’re used to raising.
Okay, so maybe that’s being a little extreme (just a little), but that’s the kind of mood Rosen’s film has put me in. And any film that coaxes that kind of reaction is definitely something to be seen. Extreme reactions aside, I still think that “The Plague Dogs” is a fine family film even though some of it will definitely be frightening to younger viewers – a hunter’s face being blown off by his own rifle comes to mind. But it also has more to consider than most other “family” fare that graces television screens these days.