Who let the dogs out?
Isle of Dogs is directed, written, and produced by Wes Anderson and stars the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and F. Murray Abraham.
There's something about Isle of Dogs that I think is going over a lot of people's heads, something that doesn't specifically involve the film's obsessive attention to detail nor its excessively offbeat humor. It may sound like a bold claim, but I'm going to go with it anyway: Wes Anderson has created one of the greatest movies ever about dogs. By all means, Anderson avoids the pitfalls that too many other dog movies are prone to falling into, particularly the pitfall of excessive sentimentality. The likes of Marley & Me and A Dog's Purpose are shameless tearjerkers that strong arm you into bawling your eyes out, because they know you can't handle the sight of a dog dying before his/her owner(s), thereby creating a sort of artificial sentimentality that doesn't have the impact that it should had the sadness occurred more naturally.
Anyone who owns or has owned a dog knows that they can be very funny animals. How could you not laugh or at least smile at a dog passionately chasing his/her own tail or barking at something like a shadow? Of course, we know that dogs don't compile mental lists of things that they think are funny and things that they think are not funny. In fact, we can't be sure that dogs even understand the concept of humor on an abstract level, the fact that humor involves a clash between the conventional and the unconventional. In a way, all dogs possess a type of offbeat humor: dogs constantly do things that we think are silly, but the dogs don't know they are being silly, and therefore, can't display the type of emotion that we normally associate with someone who is being silly: goofy smiles and a face that reads, "please don't take seriously what I just did."
Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs is an appreciation of how dogs are man's best friend and a celebration of the type of bond that humans and dogs have developed throughout history. It isn't the least bit mawkish, even though several humans and dogs shed tears throughout the film. And it is Wes Anderson in all his glory, minute details all over the place and humor that perfectly matches that of a dog. You can't imagine how upset I was that I had to wait a few weeks after the film's limited March release, this being one of those film's that you see the trailer for and you immediately shout, "I must see that now!" In this day and age where movie trailers have become little more than white noise to me while sitting in a theater, waiting for the movie to start, Isle of Dogs' trailer was one of those rare gems that really grabbed my attention. I'm happy to report that my prior excitement was rewarded, because honestly, I can't say if there's going to be any film to be released over the summer movie season that will come close to topping this one.
Taking place in a dystopian near-future version of Japan, Isle of Dogs is about the efforts of twelve year-old Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), who is in search of his missing dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). An outbreak of dog flu spreads throughout the canine population of the city of Megasaki, leading to the newly elected Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) signing a decree to banish all dogs to Trash Island. Spots is the first dog to be banished to Trash Island, being dropped off while still locked in a cage. Six months after the decree is signed, Atari runs away from home, steals a plane and flies to Trash Island. Atari crash lands on the island, where he is greeted by a pack of five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and Chief (Bryan Cranston). The dogs, except for Chief, a former stray, agree to help Atari in his search for Spots. Meanwhile back in Megasaki, a scientist named Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) believes he is close to finding a cure for the dog flu, while American transfer student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects that a conspiracy is in the works, leading her to begin an investigation.
One major criticism that Isle of Dogs has received is issues regarding cultural appropriation, and that's a fair thing to call out, because the movie, for some reason, doesn't want to give its Japanese-speaking characters subtitles, but instead rely on English-speaking interpreters who convert the spoken Japanese language into simple English statements. In addition, the American exchange student Tracy has been accused of resembling a "white savior", a white hero who attempts to rescue a foreign land and its people from some cruel, treacherous plan. While all of this is almost impossible to ignore, you won't get the best experience you can with this film unless you can find a way to tune all of this stuff out. Why let cultural concerns ruin your viewing of a movie titled Isle of Dogs, and not something like Isle of Japan?
- Wes Anderson once again proves his talents with stop-motion animation, but what truly makes Isle of Dogs a sight to behold is the obsessive attention to detail. One measly viewing won't be enough for you to notice all of the things going on in several scenes, such as people and other objects moving in the background. If you've seen the film, did you notice how scenes from a dog's perspective are de-saturated with no shades of red or green? Because it's scientifically accurate that dogs are color blind? And if you wondering, no I didn't notice that myself until I found out from someone else, and I went back and re-watched the trailer to confirm.
Anderson also shows more of his unique visual style and how he's so talented at keeping your eyes busy, with techniques such as symmetrical compositions and several shots showing characters from a 90 degree angle, all the while making you pay close attention to not just what is going on in the center of the frame, but what else may be going on around the margins. Even if you give the plot or characters a thumbs down, you can't knock on how hard the production crew worked, designing the sets and models and making sure it all looks as beautiful as can be.
- Isle of Dogs has some issues with flashbacks, in the sense that flashbacks are placed at moments one would least expect a flashback to happen. The awkward placement of flashbacks results in the film's pacing and momentum getting thrown off: the film appears to be building up to a climactic moment, only for a flashback to happen and deflate the excitement. It's as if Wes Anderson is trying to take a more non-linear approach to the narrative, giving us bits of information that, when all put together, create the entire timeline. It unfortunately doesn't work for this movie and its story.
If you say the title enough times, Isle of Dogs starts to sound like "I love dogs", and the first thing you'll want to do after watching Isle of Dogs is to find your canine pal and give him/her a big hug. Bolstered by its major attention to detail and style, Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs is a treat for dog lovers young and old, and packs plenty of dry wit to bring hearty laughs along with the movie's sweet-centered soul. The voice cast for the dogs play their respective roles as if their character was their real-life doggy equivalent. And with so much going on in basically every scene, multiple viewings are an essential. Why don't others understand you don't need to yank at the heartstrings to make a good movie about dogs? I hope Wes Anderson has set a template for all future dog flicks.
Recommend? Yes, especially if you have a dog.
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