ABOUT THE WRITER: Harry Sabulis is a film, music, theatre and media crazed writer with a passion for all things artsy. A certified nerd and aspiring screenwriter, Harry loves storytelling in all of its forms. You can read some of his film reviews on his blog, Kill The Critic.
An eccentric piece of stop-motion charm from one of cinema’s quirkiest directors, Isle of Dog is just about as Wes Anderson as a film can possibly be – and in this case, that’s a good thing.
American director Wes Anderson has quite the backlog nowadays, with his last few films – Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel – knocking it out of the park. While he’s been relatively quiet over the last few years, with Grand Budapest in 2014 being his last feature, Ilse of Dogs has proved to be well worth the wait. Boasting an outrageously impressive ensemble cast, including the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Liev Schreiber and Yoko Ono (just to name a few), there was little doubt that this film would be any less of a success than Anderson’s previous cult classics.
A stop-motion animated film set in Japan in the near future, Isle of Dogs follows a group of exiled dogs as they help the mayor’s young ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) find his lost dog Spots. This is due to a deadly (and oddly suspicious) outbreak of dog flu, which has spread rapidly through the city of Megasaki’s canine population; causing Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) to exile all dogs to the nearby trash island.
While most of the story is centred around Atari, the real heroes are the dogs – and boy are there a lot of dogs in this movie. At the forefront of the rag-tag team is Chief (Cranston), the tough stray alongside his pack Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Other notable inclusions include Atari’s dog Spots (Schreiber), Nutmeg (Johansson), the cannibal Gondo (Harvey Keitel) and the wise Oracle (Tilda Swinton). They’re also accompanied by impressive talent from the more human side of things, through the likes of Greta Gerwig and Frances McDormand.
Though the film features an impressive number of canines, the story is far more human. If you still haven’t managed to cry in a movie about dogs (which let’s face it, you have), this one might just be the one to make you swell up. While being impossibly cute and quirky, Isle of Dogs takes audiences on an emotional rollercoaster, bouncing between relatable and sympathetic characters at an almost breakneck speed.
While the vocal performances are a great part of this emotional triumph, the impressive animation is certainly another. Being Anderson’s first animated feature in nine years (since Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009), Isle of Dogs offers a serious step up technically, with various other animation styles and digital techniques seamlessly incorporated within the stylistic stop-motion. This merging of styles offered a key balance between creative visual storytelling and a more conventional approach.
One of the issues many will raise with this film is in its portrayal of Japanese culture – with cultural appropriation being a long-running issue within the film industry. For this concern, I can put your mind at rest, as the film’s portrayal of Japanese culture is in good faith and approached in a similar regard to how Wes Anderson approaches American culture in his other films.
Isle of Dogs is just a film that fits perfectly together, with its score, performances and animation fitting seamlessly with some of the best humour in film today. With enough heart to make the sternest critic tear up a bit, this one’s not to be missed.
You might even forget you’re watching an animated film about dogs.