Isle of Dogs – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

Review Summary:

Isle of Dogs was directed by Wes Anderson and features the voice talents of Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and many others. It takes place in the fantasy city of Megasaki, Japan, where a viral outbreak of “snout fever” has caused the corrupt mayor, Mr. Kobayashi, to banish all dogs to trash island. When a boy named Atari ventures to the island searching for his long lost dog, Spots, a pack of mangy mutts joins him on an adventure to locate his missing dog.

Wes Anderson is no stranger to stop motion, having directed Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was charming and gorgeously rendered. But with Isle of Dogs, virtually everything about the technique has been improved. While 3D animation has reached stunning new heights, hand-drawn and stop motion will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s a rough-around-the-edges feel to almost every shot. It’s obvious that a painstaking amount of hard work has gone into each and every single frame.

Alexander Desplat’s score propels the film along with a steady pace, creating a surprising amount of suspense as well. It was surprinsing how riveting the film was at times, and much of that can be attributed to his wonderful music.

In typical Wes Anderson style, the actors are almost self-aware in their delivery. The line readings feel idiosyncratic of the stars themselves. Almost as if Anderson is knowingly allowing the actor’s public persona to seep through. For instance, every line from Bill Murray or Jeff Goldblum feels almost tailor made for them, for their style. This can sometimes be a distraction, but a minor one. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Chief—the stray dog who prefers eating trash over puppy snaps—is a real highlight.

The amount of visual wonder present in Isle of Dogs can be staggering. Looking beyond the work behind the stop motion technique, Anderson composes beautiful images, as usual. He loves symmetry, and that couldn’t be clearer with the perfectly balanced shots. One recurring image that has stayed in mind is the silhouette of an unknown dog in the distance, one that Chief says has no scent. While all of Anderson’s film’s are visual delights, Isle of Dogs is one of his most gorgeous.

Sometimes the story turns to excessive flashbacks that halt the progression of the film, damaging the pacing. This can cause some sequences to feel a little uneven. There’s also an odd choice to not provide English subtitles for the Japanese language scenes, and instead, these scenes are either narrated in English, or literally interpreted by another character voiced by Francis McDormand. This was a poor idea for a few reasons. For one, it made it difficult to connect with the Japanese characters, especially young Atari. Since we’re always experiencing their point of view through someone else, and sometimes their dialogue is actually drowned out entirely. If this film were rated G or even PG this choice might make more sense, like for instance, if Anderson was assuming that children didn’t want to read subtitles. But it’s rated PG-13, and is aimed at older audiences. So the use of English speaking interpreters feels unnecessary, because it adds nothing artistically to the film. There’s also a subplot with a foreign exchange student played by Greta Gerwig that feels useless, that did little for the story’s movement.

Besides these gripes, Isle of Dogs is a stunning animation achievement. Anderson’s distinctive style elevates an occasionally uneven story, and his brilliant cast of actors lend their considerable talents to some remarkable characters, that in the end, have unexpectedly moving backstories. I’m always happy to see animation aimed at adults. That’s something I’ve pushed for on this channel since the beginning. I hope that Hollywood continues to give us mature-themed stories like this in animation form.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: B+

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images

Run Time: 101 min

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