Hot Take: Visually impressive, Isle of Dogs is another excellent effort from Wes Anderson who seems to only have excellent efforts.
I’ll be the first to admit Wes Anderson doesn’t always do it for me. This goes all the way back to his first films. I remember being told how important it was for me to see Rushmore and how much I’d love it. I didn’t love it. I don’t even know if I liked it. I couldn’t say it wasn’t a good movie though. It just didn’t work for me. That’s how it’s been with the entire filmography of Wes Anderson. I don’t always like what I see but I can never diminish the expert craftsmanship he displays. Here, in Isle of Dogs, Anderson combines his signature style with stop-motion animation (not the first time for that as he previously used stop-motion animation for Fantastic Mr. Fox), his ability to attract A-list talent and an incredible score from Alexandre Desplat to deliver a smart, funny, uncompromising and imaginative look at the relationship between man and dog that doesn’t rely on its political subplot to entertain. It’s one of Anderson’s better works although Moonrise Kingdom is still my favorite.
Isle of Dogs tells the story of a dystopian Japan where a dog flu virus infects the canine population. The mayor of Megasaki City bans all dogs to Trash Island including the family pet Spots (Liev Schreiber) who belonged to the orphaned nephew and ward of the mayor, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin). Six months after the dogs are banished, Atari steals a plane and crash lands on Trash Island where he is rescued by five dogs — Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and Chief (Bryan Cranston). The dogs, with the exception of Chief, band together to help Atari find Spots. Eventually, after some nudging from a purebreed named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Chief helps, too. They seek out Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton), two sage dogs who send them toward a tribe of cannibal dogs to find Spots. Meanwhile, a scientist — Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) — and his assistant — Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono (Yoko Ono) — look to discover a cure amidst an evil subplot by the mayor to rid all of Japan of dogs forever.
Both imaginative and impressive, Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, is an engrossing 101 minutes that focuses most of its energy on character development. The characters make the film seem more complex than it is. It has all of the quirks and twists you’d expect from an Anderson film and the stop-motion animation adds a layer of nuance that gives the film a unique personality. It’s easily the most creative film of 2018 so far and bested only by A Quiet Place when it comes to all-around film. Even that is debatable as Isle of Dogs has an infectious quality about it that makes you instantly want to see it again. And I don’t even like dogs.
Take it from a cat person, you don’t have to love dogs to be entertained by Isle of Dogs. (You’ll probably not survive if you hate animation though… just a warning, bro.) If there was one criticism, it’s the presence of foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who in some eyes is seen as a “white savior” and some concerns over the Japanese characters speaking very basic, simple Japanese which gives the film some concerns around racial stereotypes. It’s hard to tell if this film is a cultural homage or cultural appropriation but it toes the line well enough to pass and for all its efforts, delivers a funny, entertaining finished product.
Wes Anderson has proven himself as a skilled auteur and if you’ve seen at least one Anderson film you love, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
You’re THAT cat person!