Director: Wes Anderson
Story: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura
Screenplay: Wes Anderson
Release: March 23, 2018
Starring: Bryan Cranston as Chief, Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker, Kunichi Nomura as Mayor Kobayashi
Running Time: 101 minutes
In the near future Japanese dystopian city-state of Megasaki City, cat-loving mayor Kenji Kobayashi uses an outbreak of dog flu to gin up anti-dog sentiment. He uses the ensuing anti-dog hysteria as the impetus to sign a decree exiling all in Megasaki City to “Trash Island.” The first exile is a dog named Spots, the guard dog and pet of mayor Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, Atari. Some time later, Atari steals a training aircraft and attempts to fly it to Trash Island to find his dog. After crashing on the island, he is rescued by Chief, King, Rex, Boss, and Duke who escort him across the island to search for Spots. Back in Megasaki City, a student group is trying to prove that Mayor Kobayashi is suppressing the cure for the dog flu so that he can keep public opinion in favour of his radical anti-dog agenda. The mayor also sends militarized dog catchers to Trash Island to apprehend Atari and bring him back to Megasaki City. However, they’re thwarted at every turn by Atari and the dogs. Upon finding Spots, who has become the leader of a pack of former laboratory test dogs, the group receive word that Mayor Kobayashi is going to use Atari’s presumed death as an excuse to exterminate all of the dogs on Trash Island. As Kobayashi prepares to give the extermination order, one of the student activists, an exchange student named Tracy Walker, storms the stage and presents evidence of Mayor Kobayashi’s corruption. Atari and the dogs arrive and the cure is administered to Chief, proving that the cure works. Atari gives an impromptu speech, begging the people to change their mind about dogs and thanking his uncle for taking him in when he was himself but a stray dog. Mayor Kobayashi has a change of heart, but his lackey, Major Domo, insists that the extermination must go forward. A fight ensues, during which Atari is gravely injured and suffers the failure of his one good kidney. Mayor Kobayashi is sent to prison for corruption, but donates his kidney to save his nephew. In accordance with Megasaki City’s bizarre election laws, Atari assumes the mayorship from his uncle and decrees that the dogs be allowed to reintegrate into society.
Isle of Dogs is director Wes Anderson’s second foray into the realm of stop-motion animation. Visually, it’s very much in line with what Anderson has been doing since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Muted colours, lots of zoomed out, flat angle shots, and a sort of overall faux vintage look. As I mentioned before, this is Anderson’s second stop-motion feature and boasts about the same overall animation quality and look as his previous effort, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Oversized heads, elongated limbs, and the like. Very similar to classic stop motion of the mid to late 1960s. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like Anderson’s hipster retro visual style, Isle of Dogs isn’t going to do anything to change your mind in that regard. However, if you’re a fan of old school stop-motion, you may find it pretty to look at.
The choice of having most of the human characters speak in un-subtitled Japanese was an interesting idea. It’s mostly simple phrases that are easily understood through context, and when there is something that could be construed as important or relevant to the plot, that is where the character of Interpreter Nelson (voiced by Frances McDormand) comes in. There are also a lot of onscreen title cards that are also done in untranslated Japanese. Most of the plot, of course, is carried forward by the film’s slightly anthropomorphized canines. All of the actors put in good performances with the standouts being Bryan Cranston’s Chief and F. Murray Abraham’s Jupiter. I was a little underwhelmed by Lieve Shreiber as Spots though. Thankfully, he’s more of a plot device than a character and doesn’t really eat up too much screen time. Also, at a time of ever ballooning movie lengths, Isle of Dogs clocks in at a tidy 101 minutes. This lends the film a nice brisk pace that prevents it from overstaying its welcome.
If you’re looking for an entertaining movie to watch with the kids that won’t have you wanting to rip your ears off and dig your eyeballs out with an ice cream scoop, you should consider giving Isle of Dogs a go. I know Anderson’s faux retro visual style is a bit of an acquired taste, but it works well with the stop motion animation. It’s a fun little story with a good voice cast.