Isle of Dogs [REVIEW]

Whatever Happened To Man’s Best Friend? - Atari

The plot for indie auteur Wes Anderson’s film sounds both unlike his previous efforts and yet also exactly like the kind of film he would make. In a futuristic city of Megasaki, Japan, a young boy steals a plane and crash lands on Garbage Island, now home to the cities dogs. After canine overpopulation, compounded by Snout Fever and the Mayor’s ancient blood feud with dogs results in dogs being outlawed and quarantined on the aptly named wasteland.

The world of cinema needs more films that take the painstaking efforts towards worldbuilding that Wes Anderson and his team of creatives have provided with Isle of Dogs. The stop motion work and puppetry for this film is a truly remarkable achievement. While the pantheon of great stop motion films is largely made up of the work of Henry Selick and Tim Burton, Wes Anderson shows that he is not fucking around with a meticulously crafted tale of a boy and his best friend. Having previously dabbled with the style in some underwater sea life sequences in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and making his own contribution to the canon of Cult Classics for Kids: Roald Dahl Edition with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, his latest feature Isle of Dogs, Anderson establishes himself as a master of the medium.

Animation works best when the visuals work in tandem with a good story and a talented voice cast. Luckily, Anderson has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal with this cast. Bryan Cranston leads as a no nonsense stray who leads the film’s celebrity voiced pack of Alpha Dogs. Along with Jeff Goldblum as a gossipy hound in one of the best running gags in the film. The gang is rounded out with Edward Norton, Bob Balaban and Anderson mainstay Bill Murray. In smaller supporting roles we get another great voice work performance from smoky voiced Scarlett Johansson (see also: Her and The Jungle Book). Actual Alien-Witch Tilda Mother Fucking Swinton as a pug named Oracle who is a hilarious delight in a way only a deadpan gag about a Psychic Pug in a Wes Anderson movie can be.  Joining them are such recent critical darlings as Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand who provides some helpful translations and Oscar Nominated Multi-Hyphenate Greta Gerwig as a freckled exchange student fighting the good fight to save dogs and fight injustice. Not to mention narration by Courtney B Vance and a surprise cameo from real life role model-artist Yoko Ono. 

If Wes Anderson’s is most known for it’s dead pan humor and painstaking attention to detail,  then this film exemplifies his talents. Each part of Garbage Island is meticulously designed and curated, as though by some sort of OCD alt-universe WALL-E, to visually delicious effect. Evoking a kind of dystopic hellscape, the island is both stunning in it’s design, but also truly heartbreaking, because it is populated by a horde of abandoned dogs. Their sad eyes bulging from frames starved on a diet of what little garbage they can salvage and slowly dying from a disease that has ravaged the dogs of Japan. This dichotomy of beauty and sadness feels like a natural evolution for Anderson. Juxtaposing the bleak industrial settings of the titular island and the sleek and beautifully ornate Megasaki give the film a kind of science fiction flare which feels fresh without betraying the retro aesthetic that is synonymous with his oeuvre. 

The film also very much feels like a western love letter to Japanese film. In the way that Tarantino’s Kill Bill was a valentine to violent samurai movies that were popularized in the states as Grindhouse fare, Isle feels very much like a love letter to the films of Kurusawa and the kind of Japanese films that were popularized in The West by arthouse theatres. It doesn’t feel appropriative but rather one gets the sense that there is a deep appreciation for the beauty and sophistication of Japan’s culture and some of it’s great filmmakers.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs feels like it is both his strangest film so far and yet it might also be his most universal. A group of people fighting for the right thing despite the ever mounting odds. Whether that looks like protecting your family, helping someone in need, fighting an aggressive and violent regime, or crash landing a stolen plane on an island of garbage to save the only real friend you’ve ever had, the most noble pursuit is the one made with love. 

Isle of Dogs is currently in select cities across the world. Check your local listings and support your local theatre.

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