by Anthony King
I don't know what I expected from Criterion Channel's Art-house Animation collection of films, but it certainly wasn't walking away depressed after each and every one. Out of the 30-plus animated films in the collection, I've watched or seen five: Belladonna of Sadness, The Plague Dogs, It's Such a Beautiful Day, Rocks in My Pockets, and Tower. While the latter film ultimately leaves you with a hopeful message about humanity (as hopeful as you can get in a documentary concerning a mass shooting), the other four completely altered my outlook for the remainder of the day that lay ahead of me. I love cartoons and animation – especially hand-drawn art. Belladonna has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful watercolors you'll ever see. Beautiful Day shows that simplicity in art can still be affecting (including a title that will dupe the viewer). Rocks tells us that humor is necessary for heavy material. And The Plague Dogs... well, it's exactly what the title tells us.
The animation is beautiful and reminds me of the storybooks my parents used to read me when I was younger. Although the hand-drawn art may soften the extremely heavy material for some people, I found it only added to the melancholic tone. Watching a cartoon of three animals being carelessly hunted for sport, knowing that they might very well be infected with a horrible disease leading to their premature demise in the first place, and then listening to humans trying to figure out how to cover this whole thing up is... odd. I've judged film festivals and watched hundreds of animated shorts dealing in serious subject matter. Five to 10 minutes is a good length in my estimation. The Plague Dogs, though, is a feature-length film sitting at 103 minutes. After watching a small handful of sad animation in the days leading up to this was arduous, to say the least.
Again, I don't think Adams (or even Rosen) had any intention on commenting on a mysterious deadly disease sweeping through specific communities in the big cities of America, but I couldn't ignore it. AIDS patients were shunned, and those that were allowed to stay in hospitals were completely cut off from any other human, their rooms cordoned off as if warning everyone that “You will die if you come near this space.” After the dogs escape, Rowf comments that he wants to “change to what we used to be. Real animals. Wild animals.” They're no longer trapped. Snitter talks about the simple things: the cool water of a pond, the wind blowing the leaves around, fresh air. But they know their not in the clear. “The dark is all around us. I can feel it,” says Snitter.