As a personal lover of stop-motion films, Isle of Dogs was a must-see. The latest film from director Wes Anderson, the film follows 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi, the ward to the corrupt mayor of Megasaki City. After a dog flu spreads throughout the city, all dogs are deported to “Trash Island”, including Atari’s loyal companion, Spots. Six months later, Atari flies to the island and searches for Spots, with the help of five dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban).
Wes Anderson’s unique visual style is perfect for a movie like this. It’s oddly depressing and happy at the same time, working its way up to become one of the funniest and best stop-motion animated films ever made. Anderson’s first animated attempt, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel) is a funny, well-written, emotionally investing film and he carries over those qualities for Isle of Dogs.
The story is told masterfully, and in order to view this film through the eyes of a child, you have to think like one. The dogs aren’t anthropomorphic. It says right in the opening scene that the barks have been translated. However, that’s a dead giveaway that this is an adult’s vision of a film for kids, and I think Wes Anderson’s layer of childish touch to his films works in so many ways. The story flows very well thanks to this and turns the film into something only Wes Anderson could pull off.
The main issue I have with this film is its depiction of Japan. I enjoy when politics are mixed with genres that normally wouldn’t work with a political subplot. This technique worked surprisingly well with films like Watchmen and more recently Black Panther. However, I just can’t quite enjoy the elements portrayed in Megasaki City. In a world populated solely by politics and equality uprisings, you’d think that there’d be more of that included here.
However, in this film, the student that brings forth a change in the city is a foreign exchange student from America, played by Greta Gerwig. I would’ve liked to have seen one of the general members of the population change the course of the city and its leaders instead of an outsider. That being said, I do enjoy Gerwig’s portrayal of the character. Every one of the actors is enjoyable in this movie, despite the flaws with the plot and character.
The rest of the characters definitely are enjoyable. Wes Anderson’s cast in each of his films tends to be colorful and vibrant, each having their own unique qualities. That’s why we tend to love them and root for them. In Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy and Sam are naive, but they look out for each other, and the relationship between them is beautiful. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the relationship between Zero and Gustave is also unique, contrasting how a mentor teaches a student, and how that’s reflected on the latter in his later years.
Isle of Dogs does this perfectly. Each of the characters is searching for meaning in a world where they’ve been cast away from the only people they’ve ever loved. However, when Atari lands on Trash Island, the dogs, especially Chief, are able to express their true feelings. They’re given the chance to help someone that doesn’t care about what they are. And with that, they find something they’ve been looking for the whole time.
While the morals are realistic, the characters are still colorful and filled to the brim with unique and developed thoughts and actions. They’re expressive. They’re quirky. And from that, the film spirals into absolute hilarity. From Oracle (Tilda Swinton), the pug that can “see the future” (by watching TV), to a pack of cannibalistic dogs, the film is jam-packed with extraordinarily entertaining additions to Anderson’s library of characters, taking their place among the ranks of his most well-known figures.
Isle of Dogs is a worthwhile follow-up to Wes Anderson’s last triumph. It has multiple flaws concerning the cultural appropriation aspect, in addition to the human characters, serving as a small disappointment. That being said, the rest of the film is truly outstanding, encapsulating everything a Wes Anderson movie is and should be. The dogs are colorful and expressive, and the story and plot elements flow nicely and feel like a breath of fresh air. The cinematography is beautiful, and the writing is spot-on. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year and it comes highly recommended.
Isle of Dogs stars Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood. Directed by Wes Anderson.