‘Isle of Dogs’ is Fetching!

by Christian Ramos on April 5, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

 [Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up] 

The films of Wes Anderson are so quirky in their tones and design that I feel the pastel industry must love it every time he makes a new film. His films have explored the deepest parts of the ocean, hidden gems in the forest for new love, dysfunctional families, and now talking dogs. Isle of Dogs certainly is high on the list of Anderson’s quirkiest films, but through it all it is one of the better ones, blending his brand of dry humor with action seen in classic Japanese samurai action films to make a doggone great feature.

In terms of design, Anderson opted to follow the path of his 2009 feature,Fantastic Mr. Fox and create Isle of Dogs as a stop-motion animated film. The story, set in a near futuristic Japan, shows the rise and sudden decline and rejection of dogs after a strain of dog flu threatens even humans and the dogs are sent from Megasaki City to a nearby ‘Trash Island.’ We see one dog in particular, Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber) actually being taken from his home to the island, to await his future.

Months later a group of dogs (with no master mind you) including some of Anderson’s regulars;  Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) discover ‘a little pilot’ Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rakin) who is looking for Spot, his missing dog. This journey to help find Spots takes the group to unexplored regions of the island, along the way getting guadiace from the show dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle who can see the future based on television reports (Tilda Swinton). When most of the group save Chief and Atari get separated, it is up to them to track down Spots before police square in and return Atari to the mainland.

In one MORE story line, a scientist Professor Watanabe and his assistant Yoko Ono (voiced by Yoko Ono) discover the cure for dog flu, but they are imprisoned by Mayor Kobayashi because he would rather kill all the dogs than face his mayorship. This is found out by American exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who leads a counter revolution to save the dogs and distribute the vaccines to all the good boys and girls.

There’s a lot to this film, I know. My friend who saw this with me thought it was long and I can attest to that, even if it’s under two hours. Anderson has a lot going on in this movie and while plot points can go from one thing to another and back again, it is all pretty easy to keep up with. It’s funny in that Anderson way, it’s super dark when it comes to how benevolent Mayor feels about dogs and what to do with them, but in the end it has such a good heart to it. I can only compare this to what it feels like to be in the presence of a good dog. They make your day better with their tail wags and they listen to you when you need it most, offering maybe a lick or laying their heads on you to show they care. Even the gruffest of dog (and more the main dog character) Chief, is given an amazing backstory to why he bites, leading to the most tender of stories Anderson has ever produced.

There has been some backlash against this film in many factors. I cannot go on with the review without giving my opinions on them. I do want my opinion on this film to influence you viewers. I do agree that the film does have a problem with diversity in the casting. Most all of the Japanese characters speak in their native voice and we the audience only get interpretation from Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand). Oddly enough, some of the dogs can understand the humans and vice versa. The character of Tracy is a bit of a ‘white savior’ in her leading the protests to protect dogs while the villain we again, only hear him in his own language, as even Atari doesn’t do much except want to save his own dog. While it may be weird to say, I came into this mostly for the dogs. I know even then the cast is mostly made of white actors, but it is the dog characters you come to care for and root for, even when they get in peril. I elect to make your own points!

In the end, I really really liked Isle of Dogs. It isn’t your normal run-of-the-mill animated feature (it’s not for children) because this is a lot sharper than most. If Anderson has a central point to make in this that can easily let me wrap it up, I fail to find it. Maybe this is really just a love letter to dogs to show them they can be loved, and can be heroes just like everybody else.

Christian Ramos is a recent graduate of KU with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies. When he’s not watching movies, he likes to brag about the pointless Oscar trivia he knows, remembers that time he dressed as Steven Spielberg for Halloween and shows off his tweet that Julianne Moore liked.

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