Wes Anderson is back at it again with another satisfying, yet odd movie to add to his creations in the form of Isle of Dogs. If you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson flick, and chances are you probably have, then do yourself a solid and watch at least one. Anderson is known for having quirky subject matter and fast-talking dialogue in his movies. Isle of Dogs, which sounds a lot like “I Love Dogs” if you say it fast enough (coincidence?), is at the top of my list for movies of 2018.
You really need to understand the style of Wes Anderson if you want to truly get into his type of storytelling. Isle of Dogs does not shy away from his quirky subject matter and odd dialogue.
If you’ve seen Fantastic Mr. Fox, another Anderson flick, then Isle of Dogs’ stop-motion animation will be very familiar. The stop-motion somehow adds to the humor of the movie, and I can’t really explain how.
As always, the cast is great and each character has their own quirky demeanor. The movie has the voice talents of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Jeff Goldblum, who was arguably brought into the world to specifically fit perfectly in Wes Anderson movies by just being himself.
The plot deals with the fictional town of Megasaki City, a future dystopian-like version of Japan. The town wants to ban all dogs because of a flu that is plaguing the species due to a fear of the disease spreading to humans. Yeah…it’s pretty dark.
The movie jumps right into things during a town meeting where the evil Mayor Kobayashi announces his plan to deport all dogs from Megasaki City to a garbage dump island. This leads to the giant island being inhabited by hundreds of dogs, both former house pets and strays, hence, Isle of Dogs. It’s here that they form packs of various dog breeds and even form gangs to fight for the scrap food among the garbage.
Things take a turn when we’re made aware that there is a cure to the dog-flu, however, Mayor Kobayashi would rather kill every dog than cure them. We learn that this is due to a prejudice against dogs that is long held by his ancestors. The intro to the movie explains the complicated reason for their hatred in an amusing way. But if there’s one thing we need today it’s more political undertones “hidden” in movies.
The plot is set forth when Atari Koboyashi, an orphaned boy who is sent to live with his uncle, the Mayor of Megasaki City. Atari’s personal security dog, Spots, is the first one to be sent to the island when Mayor Kobayashi announces the deportation. Atari is so distraught that he hijacks a plane and flies to the Isle of Dogs to perform a search and rescue all by himself.
During his search, he meets a pack of quirky former house dogs who are struggling to survive and take care of themselves. Unlike the stray dogs on the island, they never had to scavenge for food and fight for their lives having only lived comfortably with their loving owners. Atari recruits the help of the pack and uses their knowledge of the Isle in order to locate Spots and bring him back to his rightful home.
Isle of Dogs succeeds in its humor, party due to its stop-motion animation. There’s something hilarious about a pug named Oracle who has “visions”, but those visions are really just her being able to understand what she sees on TV.
I’m aware that I keep using the word “quirky”, but I’m finding it hard to think of another word that would accurately describe this movie.
The banter between the pack of dogs, especially Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, is where most of the humor lies. Duke has an obsessive need to spread gossip to the other dogs in the pack, which serves as a useful plot tool that will rapidly explain some otherwise random elements in the story. The story works mainly due to the animation. Having this story portrayed any other way would not feel natural.
Cranston is great as Chief, the hard-headed leader of the pack. He’s hesitant to let Atari join the pack because his trust in humans was ruined by his former owners. He’s the only dog in the pack who doesn’t need a master, unlike the others who only know life with their owners — a fact that led to their choice to help Atari in the first place.
Translate the message of Isle of Dogs as you will, it ultimately comes off as a funny, exaggerated, and satirical look at some events playing out in real life, with a doggy twist. It’s hard to miss the parallels when the tone shifts from a search and rescue effort to a full on revolution led by a group of kids.
Speaking of those changes in tone, it was a bit hard to keep up with the vibe of the movie. You feel bad for Atari who just wants his dog back. The movie makes you feel for him as he tries his best to locate Spots, who by all accounts should be dead, but all of a sudden we’re now watching a white American student named Tracy Walker, who starts to radicalize her peers to fight the government and advocate a Pro-Dog agenda.
It’s funny, yeah, but you’re left wondering if you are supposed to be laughing or feel bad about the events we are seeing in real life. In fact, the movie also throws in a subplot about scientists who are trying to find a cure for the dog-flu who are being targeted by the opposition.
Heartwarming as it may be, the character development was a bit predictable to have Chief slowly and surely begin to love Atari and accept him. It’s an old narrative that you see coming from the very moment they met.
Lastly, between Atari’s search for Spots, Chief’s struggle with his morals, Tracy’s efforts to start a revolution, Mayor Kobayashi’s plan to kill all dogs, and a randomly cast Yoko Ono picking up the pieces of her boss’ murder, you find it hard to decide which is the real story to pay attention to.
Isle of Dogs is a fun animated film that brings all of the Wes Anderson charm we have come to love over the years. The movie shines with Anderson’s trademark fast-talking dialogue among characters. The stop-motion animation boosts the overall likability of the movie because who doesn’t like a weird looking pug- real or animated?
Although the story is pretty damn hard to follow, especially since the majority of it is in Japanese, there’s little to find wrong with the movie. The only real issue I had with the Isle of Dogs was the fact that there were too many subplots happening at the same time to give any one of them your full attention.
Isle of Dogs is a great time to be had at the theater and is a great title to add to the Wes Anderson collection. You won’t be disappointed.
Also, go home and hug your dogs!
Pro-Tip: Check out some other awesome Wes Anderson films such as Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore.