The Plague Dogs
By Alistair Lawrence,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Animated adaptation has violence, peril, and animal cruelty.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The story is very bleak, exploring themes of animal cruelty, trauma, medical ethics, and dogs' relationships with humans. But there are examples of courage, friendship, and kindness.
Positive Role Models
Animal characters, particularly Snitter and Rowf, show courage and loyalty to one another. Some human characters show bravery and selflessness to help animals. Others treat them as subjects for their science experiments and threaten violence against them. References to mental illness and trauma, but these are sometimes dismissed as "turns" or "going mad." Very few female characters. Different British English dialects and accents used throughout.
Violence & Scariness
Bloody injuries and death, some gore. Animals hunt and kill for food. Experimentation on animals includes forcing a dog to swim until exhaustion. Dead dogs disposed of by maintenance staff. Reference to a dog receiving vivisection. Another dog behaves aggressively toward humans when feeling threatened. Human character is accidentally shot and another falls to their death. Dogs eat decaying flesh of dead animals. Farmers and soldiers hunt with shotguns. Reference to the bubonic plague.
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Language used includes "bugger," "bloody hell," "twits," "arse," "bastards," and "damn."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Reference to a character smoking tobacco. Pubs shown from the outside.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Plague Dogs is an animated adaption of the book by Richard Adams -- who also wrote Watership Down -- and contains some violence and distressing scenes. A bleak story about two dogs -- Snitter (John Hurt) and Rowf (Christopher Benjamin) -- who escape the harsh confines of an animal testing facility, there are few positive messages. But Snitter and Rowf do show bravery and kindness toward one another as they try to survive in the wild. The movie's human characters -- nearly all male -- are mostly portrayed in opposition to Snitter and Rowf, referring to the dogs and other animals without emotion and in terms of them being research subjects. The violence is intermittent and in keeping with life in the natural world. Animals are hunted and killed for food as a necessity. Snitter and Rowf are also pursued with weapons when they are identified as an unwitting threat to humans. Snitter is involved in human deaths -- including an accidental shooting -- but expresses guilt and remorse about them. He also alludes to mental illness and trauma when he recounts the events surrounding his master's death. But these allusions are often dismissed as "turns" or "going mad." There is some swearing including "bastard," "arse," and "bugger." There is also one minor reference to a character smoking. Parents should also be aware that two versions of the movie exist, an 86-minute cut and a 103-minute one (reviewed here). The former is edited for length and violent content.
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Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
The Plague Dogs
Based on 1 parent review
A brutal look at mortality and animal ethics, great for adults. This is NOT a children’s movie
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What's the Story?
THE PLAGUE DOGS tells the story of two dogs, Snitter (John Hurt) and Rowf (Christopher Benjamin), who escape an animal-testing facility. With the help of a fox called The Tod (James Bolam) that they befriend, the pair must quickly learn to survive in the wild.
Is It Any Good?
A less-famous relation to Watership Down, this animated tale from 1982 takes a similarly unflinching look at the natural world and humans' relationship to animals. It is debatable whether The Plague Dogs is a "kids' movie" as such, but its tense, moody tone complements what is often more of a character study than a plot-driven drama or adventure story.
As a slowly unraveling panic grows in its severity, main characters Snitter and Rowf remain understandably unaware of the wider problems set in motion by their escape from an animal testing facility. While the movie repeats itself in places, particularly during its second half, at its best it is a haunting and uncompromising piece of work that asks uneasy question about medical ethics, the treatment of animals, and what harm we sometimes do to the world around us without realizing it.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence and scariness in The Plague Dogs. Did it feel necessary to the story? Was it less or more impactful due to the main characters being animals? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Discuss how the film highlights animal cruelty and the way humans sometimes treat animals. Were you shocked by some aspects of the story? How much do you know about medical experimentation of animals?
Discuss the character of Snitter. Why was he traumatized? How was his mental health addressed in the movie? Was it handled sensitively?
Discuss the lack of female characters in the movie. Did this surprise you? How might the movie be cast differently if it was made today?
Have you read the book? How did this movie compare? What other movies based on books have you seen?
- In theaters: December 16, 1983
- On DVD or streaming: August 17, 2004
- Cast: John Hurt, Christopher Benjamin, James Bolam
- Director: Martin Rosen
- Studios: Embassy Pictures, Trinity Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent images and thematic elements
- Last updated: March 28, 2023
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