Isle of Dogs Review

The union of Wes Anderson and stop-motion animation continues to be an ideal match. In 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson showed what he could create using a medium that gives its author total control over every detail and every tiny movement; it amplified his comedy and creativity. This proves true once more in “Isle of Dogs,” a completely original concept and story.

The film takes place in a fictional Japanese Dystopia in which a canine disease has swept over the city of Megasaki, leading the mayor to order the banishing of all dogs to Trash Island. Flash forward a little to the mayor’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), crash-landing a plane on the island and encountering a pack of Trash Island dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston). The pack discerns that Atari is looking for his dog and bodyguard Spots (Liev Schreiber), the first dog ever shipped off to the island. Despite Chief’s reluctance to help a human, he is overruled by Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Boss (Bill Murray).

Their adventure becomes this fresh and interesting way of exploring the relationship between man and dog, embodied in the initially tenuous dynamic between Atari, an orphan in search of his best friend, and Chief, who has found new purpose on Trash Island because he doesn’t have to be obedient.

That story could’ve been told any number of ways, so in a sense the Japanese cultural aesthetic could be deemed arbitrary, yet it really adds a distinctive flavor. Various Kabuki/Noh theatre influences blend with Anderson’s usual visual stylization and storytelling rhythm, and Alexandre Desplat gets a fresh musical palette to work with for his excellent score. It’s clear that Anderson was destined to do something in a traditional Japanese style and it was probably easiest to do in a completely fictional adventure story.

All this to say, “Isle of Dogs” is rife with Anderson trademarks that will undoubtedly satiate his most devoted fans. He only gets points for dressing up some of his most prolific themes –a protagonist with dead parents, estranged relationships and a meticulous plan gone wrong – in his most unique and creative way to date. The world-building he does in this film is unlike anything he’s done before, from the visuals of a Dystopic Japan to telling a story in which only the animals speak English and there are no inorganic subtitles.

The tender relationship moments that usually accompany his films also take a slightly different shape in man and his pet. Even though the plot is larger than life, it always boils down to that moment of emotional vulnerability that always helps catapult his films from good to great. “Isle of Dogs” is no exception, and there’s plenty to marvel at too.


4/5 Stars


Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura
Starring: (Voices) Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum


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