WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
A plucky young boy sets out on a valiant quest to rescue his beloved dog and best friend, Spots, after the loyal doggo is banished to Trash Island following an outbreak of canine flu in Japan. The rest of Megasaki’s (a fictional city set in Japan) dogs soon follow.
They are quarantined in this eat-or-be-eaten wasteland under the orders of Akari’s villainous uncle, who just so happens to be Megasaki’s mayor. Akari’s (voiced by Koyu Rankin) mission gets some help from a ragtag pack of dogs on the island, while a group of dog lovers in Megasaki realises the quarantine is not at all what the corrupt mayor claims as they unearth a massive government conspiracy.
The voice cast includes Liev Schreiber as Spots, Bryan Cranston as Chief, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, Edward Norton as Rex, Bill Murray as Boss, and Bob Balaban as King in the lead roles. Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono also feature.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Disclaimer: I love dogs. I prefer them to humans, quite frankly – (almost) no exceptions.
Wes Anderson’s ninth film is near perfect in some respects – the stop-motion animation is exquisitely and exhaustively detailed; the characters are relatable wackadoos; the choice of voice actors who play them freakishly spot-on. The story itself, set 20 years in the future, is timely and relevant, addressing all too familiar government and societal perversions, and yet subtle enough that a five-year-old would miss the darker, more complex Andersonian undertones.
It falters, either only slightly or quite significantly, depending on who you ask, in how it presents Japanese culture. This includes some perpetuation of racial and cultural stereotypes, in addition to a questionable decision to only occasionally translate the Japanese speakers.
The biggest misstep lies in the decision to make the schoolgirl who leads the charge to uncover the government's evil misdeeds a white American exchange student – for absolutely no discernible reason. The idea of the “American hero” is certainly unnecessary here.
The furry misfits at the center of the film, some snobby show dogs, others watchdogs or guard dogs and a few strays in between, give merriment to the viewer. Oh, how delicious they are! Their interactions are witty, peppered with nippy insults, and fueled by memories of their lush past lives – specifically their diets of crunchy biscuits and first-rate dog food.
Traces of Anderson’s previous work are all over Isle of Dogs. Now, The Fantastic Mr. Fox’s depiction of classism is not as subtle as the political themes of conspiracy and manipulation in Isle of Dogs, but similarly, Anderson doesn’t allow for the film to be overwhelmed by it. In both The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs the themes are so well-crafted that its sweet bitter multiplicity is truly Anderson’s greatest gift – both as a talent to write and layer these many stories, but also to the viewer, who can choose to be a five-year-old watching a funny movie about cute doggos who go on an adventure with a brave boy to save his best friend instead of basically watching an allegory of every corrupt government to have disgraced this earth.
Either way from the dire badlands, the big square jawline of the mayor, to Akari’s little plane, and the old-school animated clouds of dust when the dogs fight – Isle of Dogs is a thing of beauty; quite a cinematic vision to behold.