Isle Of Dogs

ISLE OF DOGS is probably exactly what you expect it to be. Wes Anderson, director of films like BOTTLE ROCKET, MOONRISE KINGDOM, and THE BUDAPEST HOTEL, has a very specific style. His films are kitschy, cute and irreverent. You either swoon for his quirky style or loathe it.

For those who has found themselves charmed by Anderson’s previous work, ISLE OF DOGS will continue to tickle that nostalgic feeling, as well as offer several hearty laughs, and heartstring pulls, throughout. ISLE OF DOGS follows in the wake of a mass dog relocation project.

All the dogs of Megasaki city find themselves abandoned on a trash island outside of the city after a disease outbreak. A lone boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), travels to the island in search of his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). This kick-starts a journey filled with government corruption, robot attack dogs, and human-dog bonding.

The Beauty Of Mongrels

Anderson returns to the world of stop motion with ISLE OF DOGS. Just like his previous journey into animation, THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, ISLE OF DOGS is meticulously choreographed, each scene framed and blocked with utmost precision. ISLE OF DOGS has some beautiful cinematography. There are gorgeously staged scenes, as we watch these dogs journey through the broken and refuse filled world of their garbage island.

A Pack of A-List Talent For Isle Of Dogs

Also like MR. FOX, ISLE OF DOGS is jam-packed with A-lister voice talent. Nearly every voice is recognizable, from the main dog leads to the secondary dogs, getting a line or two of dialogue. The main unit of dogs are not only portrayed by A-listers, but each character plays off the other to near perfection.

Chief (Bryan Cranston) is their leader; Rex (Edward Norton), is the brown noser who keeps butting into Chiefs plans; King (Bob Balaban) is a former dog food mascot trying to adjust to his new mongrel life; Boss (Bill Murray) is a former mascot for a peewee baseball team, who is a klutz and a lovable doofus; and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), is the group gossip hound, always asking “Did you hear about (blank)?”

Isle Of Dogs
Our pack of hero dogs.

This ensemble works like gangbusters, as each role plays off of the other. Each of these dogs seems to have their own independent personality, as well as adding to the cohesive whole of the group. They begin to lead their new “master” Atari through the wreckage of garbage island. As they travel farther up the peninsula, they begin to grow closer to one another. It is an adventure not unlike a classic hero’s journey, as Atari grows as a character, and makes new bonds with these dogs.

Along the way, they meet even more recognizable voices. Scarlett Johansson appears as a former show dog Nutmeg, sarcastically trading flirts with Bryan Cranston’s Chief. F. Murray Abraham and Tilda Swinton appear as Jupiter and Oracle, two wise dogs who know the ins and outs of the island. Even legendary actor Harvey Keitel appears, playing Gondo, leader of a pack of supposed “cannibal” dogs.

A Shaggy Watergate

Playing as the B story, we follow a few key citizens back in Megasaki city. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has a grand plan to kill off the entirety of the dog population, finally finishing what his ancestors started. Standing in his way is a small group of high school aged protesters, calling themselves the “Pro-Dog” group. by Tracy Walker (played by an energized and badass Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student from Ohio leads this group of dissenters.

While most of the action stays with the dogs, the narrative within Megasaki focuses on political trickery and the power of news media. While the film was in production for several years, you can clearly see the parallels between the corrupt government of Megasaki and our own.

Mayor Kobayashi starts a smear campaign against dogs, causing their removal, and planned genocide. He also goes so far as to proclaim that the protesters are part of a false flag narrative, implanted by a foreign government. Tracy Walker plays into the classic no-nonsense news reporter role, doing everything she can to get her story, not unlike the infamous Bernstein and Woodward.

Isle Of Dogs
Atari with his faithful dog companions.

That is where the magic of this film comes from. Each storyline, from the journey of the dogs to the reveal of political corruption, is played straight. These dogs have taken this mission to heart, traveling with their new master. Tracy Walker, a 13-year-old girl, grills her subjects, getting down to the truth of the matter. The humor comes from these serious subjects, played completely straight, by absurdist roles.

Anderson Being Anderson

It is in this formula that some viewers might begin to tire. This is Wes Anderson doing his thing; not unlike MOONRISE KINGDOM and GRAND BUDAPEST, the narrative is both straight and quirky; not going as surreal as to fall into David Lynch’s world, but still just off kilter. This is a Wes Anderson film through and through. For those who found his previous works haven’t clicked with them, this isn’t the film that is going to convince them otherwise.

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The ending is also quite saccharine. Without going too deep into the narrative, the ending essentially ignores any of the darker elements that came before it. It feels more in line with that of a Disney animated film, over that of the narrative that preceded it. It’s an ending that’ll have you leaving with a smile, but it leaves the film feeling too complete and wholesome. The harsher edges that exist in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and RUSHMORE are missing in ISLE OF DOGS, leaving a very happy, yet thin ending.

A Love Letter To Our Furry Best Friends

Look, like noted before, this isn’t a film for everyone. Wes Anderson makes very specific films. Every known director has their traits; Christopher Nolan makes very emotionally sterile films, while Quentin Tarantino splatters his angry emotions at the wall. Wes Anderson makes very quirky, very warm films. Each of his films has specific looks and specific dialogue. For those that haven’t geld with Anderson previously, ISLE OF DOGS won’t be the film that changes your mind.

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For Anderson fans like me, who are also a dog lover, ISLE OF DOGS is right up your alley. It is Wes Anderson playing right in his wheelhouse. It is a film that will have you leaving with a warm feeling in your chest, and the excitable urge to go home and hug your dog.

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ISLE OF DOGS will be in theaters on March 23rd.

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