Movie Review: Isle of Dogs
By: Allyson Roche ’19
Academy-Award nominated director Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) showcases his strengths in his ninth feature, Isle of the Dogs. The warmth and love of this adventure – that is not lost, but accentuated by Anderson’s signature quirky style – proves that his imaginative approach to storytelling does not diminish the power of the story itself.
The movie, which is Anderson’s second venture into stop-motion filmmaking, is set in near-future Japan where Megasaki Mayor Kobayashi has banned all dogs to Trash Island, after a virus spread through the dog population. One of the first dogs to be sent is Spots – Kobayashi’s orphaned nephew, Atari’s guard dog. Atari then flies a plane to Trash Island in search of Spots, where he meets a pack of dogs who help him along the way.
The cast is filled with some familiar faces that Anderson has been known to work with. The main group of canines that we follow throughout the film are Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), who each have their moments of witty dialogue.
Although the audience hears the dogs speak English, many of the humans in the film speak Japanese – many times without subtitles present. Interpreter Nelson, voiced by Frances McDormand, translates some of the human dialogue. This does not make the film difficult to follow, instead it makes the authenticity of the story shine.
The dogs elicit the most emotion, as their pain, loneliness, loyalty, and love are intricately written and brilliantly expressed by the voice actors and stop-motion figures.
Anderson recruited Academy Award winning composer Alexandre Desplat to score the film in their fourth collaboration. The film progresses to the beautifully drum-heavy score that compliments the complex set designs and editing.
This is probably Anderson’s most political film to date, and the political situation we are in today aids in this timeliness. Anderson told Variety, “We knew there was something happening politically [in the film]. It’s where the story came from, and what happens in the movie, it’s our fantasy of the politics in this made-up place. But then, because we have been working on this movie for a long time, the world began to change in the movie and we all said it feels right for the moment, so maybe there were tiny places along the way where we were getting new inspiration from real life.”
American foreign exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) writes for her school newspaper where she spends time investigating Kobayashi’s decisions regarding the banishing of the dogs, after losing her dog, Nutmeg, to the legislation. She starts a student-led “pro-dog” revolution, which coincidentally is reminiscent of today’s #NeverAgain movement, a student led action to fight for gun control. Tracy and her friends remind the adults and politicians to listen to their hearts in face of corruption.
Although this film is about talking dogs – something children often love in movies – it’s complex themes are better suited for older children and adults.