Surprisingly, despite the depressing subject, I found myself unattached to the story’s emotions. I would guess it has to do with the direction of he work.
The film starts with one of our two lead characters
in deep trouble in the laboratory.
The story is essentially the story of two dogs who escape a laboratory that experiments on animals, and they make their way across the British countryside while teams of people search for them. One of the dogs has been inflicted with a plague bacteria and could spread the disease outside of the lab.
The story is told through a sort-of narration done in a very clever way. Disconnected human voices talking about the situation are used as voice over. We don’t often see who’s talking but we hear their voices. There are times where the voices start and we join the speakers in their conversations. The two dogs communicate with each other and a fox, who helps them in their escape.
The dogs escape and travel the back roads in the mountains.
The animation throughout is just about serviceable. No scenes really shine even though there are a couple of standout names in the credits – including Brad Bird, Tony Guy and Retta Scott – as animators.
The film was a follow-up project for producer/director, Martin Rosen. He was the original producer of Watership Down, and his ego allowed him to think he could direct that film better than John Hubley, who was fired within the first six months.
There’s the constant play between the traveling dogs
and the humans who talk about their roaming the countryside.
It’s no surprise that Plague Dogs includes no poetic scenes such as the introduction and the “Bright Eyes” sequences of Watership Down. It’s all down and heavy, done with a lack of grace. Yet, despite this there are several very clever devices for keeping the story moving forward. It would have been nice to see what better animation and a better director might have brought to it.
However, the film’s tough subject matter was sure to bring back poor business, and there’s no surprise in its low grosses at the box office. However, as I’ve said, the film deserves another look.
The film gasps for air with the heavy approach, though it deserves
praise for trying to be different and take animation seriously.
I can remember being in England, mixing the voice track of Tim Curry for that film. The recording engineer talked about having to sit through Plague Dogs so many times while mixing it, and explaining how the film had to fail at the box office. He talked in similar terms about When the Wind Blows which, at the least, had Raymond Briggs and David Bowie behind it. Not quite such a miserable failure as Plague Dogs, it still didn’t do well.
I’d always thought that “Doctor Rat” by William Kotzwinkle would have made a better animals-escape-lab story. It’s certainly a better read.