The Plague Dogs was directed by Martin Rosen, adapted by Rosen from a book by Richard Adams. The same people collaborated on a previous animated film, Watership Down, which is also notorious for being far too violent and grim for a children’s film. After Watership Down’s success, Rosen apparently tried his luck on a much harsher story by Adams, with a bitter anti-animal cruelty message.
It’s a big shame because The Plague Dogs is quite an unsung masterpiece and possibly one of the best animated films ever made. It is a film for adults and adult-minded children who are not afraid of a bit of harsh truth. Yet it is not adult in the same sense that Heavy Metal and countless Anime movies and TV shows are, and that’s what makes it so unique.
As harsh and violent as The Plague Dogs can become, it is always level-headed and honest about it’s message and is never gratuitous, even with an infamous scene depicting a tragic accident with a shotgun. It shows the extent of animal cruelty in the name of science in an unremitting way.
The animation style is very stark, like the story itself, and some of the little details add to the realism. For some reason, Disney’s talking animals have no visible genitalia. But in the plague dogs, all of the animals’ naughty bits are also drawn. Not only that, you can see them peeing on trees on some occasions. These may not seem like important additions, but the details help build credibility.