Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

By: Lucas Henkel | Arts & Entertainment Editor
April 17, 2018

If you’re a movie enthusiast like me, you’ve probably familiar with the director Wes Anderson. However, for those of you who aren’t, I’m sure you’ve at least heard about some of his previous works, such as the Oscar-winning Grand Budapest Hotel back from 2014.

Either way, heard of him or not, he’s one of those few directors that you can immediately identify in the first few minutes of one of his movies. His heavy usage of wide symmetrical camera shots and deadpanned characters are just a few of his many trademarks, making him one of the quirkiest and memorable directors in modern filmmaking.

Of course, you didn’t click on this article to read about my analyzations of Wes Anderson, you’re here for my analyzations of Wes Anderson’s new animated film Isle of Dogs.

I remember seeing the first trailer way back in September of last year, and it was one of the few times where I got genuinely excited to see a movie in theaters. The last time Wes Anderson touched stop-motion animation was way back in 2009 with the movie-adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was something I quite enjoyed when I was younger. So hearing that he was returning to the genre almost nine years later, well Sonny Jim, I was quite ecstatic.

After having finally seen Isle of Dogs over spring break, I’ve got to say: Wes Anderson, you have done it again. Isle of Dogs is a great movie. Not only is it a great Wes Anderson movie, it’s a great stop-motion movie and a great movie in general. In fact, there are so many things to talk about with this movie that I’m not even sure where to even begin really.

Well, I suppose the plot is a good starting point. Since I don’t really want to spoil much of the film, I’m just going to give you a quick run-down of the basic premise. Set in the near-future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, a wide-spread outbreak of “dog flu” and “snout fever” has ravaged through the local canine population. The solution? Mayor Kobayashi signs a decree, declaring that all dogs must be quarantined to–what is essentially the eastern equivalent of the Great Pacific garbage patch–Trash Island, much to the dismay of a scientist by the name of Professor Watanabe and his small group of supporters.

Six months later, Trash Island has become entirely populated with tired, hungry, and sick–constantly sneezing–dogs. From there, the film focuses and establishes our main pack: Rex, King, Duke, Boss, and Chief. It seems like an average day–complete with doom and gloom–when out of nowhere, they all spot a small airplane having some engine problems, crash landing in a nearby area. Upon closer examination of the crash site, the five discover that it was a young boy piloting the plane, and not just any boy, but the mayor’s nephew Atari Kobayashi.

As it turns out, that crash landing from earlier was no accident, and that Atari flew to Trash Island with the purpose of rescuing his guard dog, Spots, also known to the locals as “Dog Zero”. From there, Atari manages to slowly befriend the pack and go on a journey to find his beloved dog.

It’s a touching story at heart, making it probably the most emotional Wes Anderson film I’ve seen since Moonrise Kingdom. Keep in mind, Anderson has the odd tendency to make the audience as disconnected to the main protagonists as humanly possible, so the fact that I actually felt some of the characters’ emotions during the movie is quite a bit of a surprise. In fact, Isle Of Dogs is also one of the more serious–and political–Wes Anderson movies I have seen surprisingly enough. It’s even more surprising once you remember the fact that the movie is not live-action, making this probably the most mature animation I have seen in my lifetime. And is this a bad thing? No. Far from it.

Isle of Dogs is a refreshing experience. I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent here and say that it’s about time animation is being recognized again as a serious storytelling medium. There’s only two other movies I can think of right now that treats animation like this, and that’s My Life As A Zucchini and Watership Down, although neither of which I’ve seen admittedly. I’m not including Sausage Party and other similar comedy animations in that list though since those are a whole ‘nother thing entirely. Anyways, the point is, Wes Anderson, I commend you for being one of the few directors out there right now for taking animation seriously, and I hope more follow in your footsteps.

Now then, now that I’ve got that out of the way, time to move on to the movie visuals I suppose. Looking back, Isle of the Dogs, is probably the second prettiest stop-motion film I’ve seen so far. Sorry to say it, but I still think Kubo And The Two Strings takes first place in that competition. However, unlike KuboIsle of Dogs is much more… unique. Like every Wes Anderson movie, you’ve got the typical visual tropes. You have the highly symmetrical camera shots and angles and all that as mentioned previously, you’ve also got that hand-crafted look to the film seen previously in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

This is something that I can greatly admire about the movie: Everything has been handcrafted. There has been a minimal amount of digital editing throughout the movie and is almost entirely made practically. Of course, this is kind of to be expected with stop-motion films, but for some reason, Isle of Dogs humbles me more than other similar movies I’ve seen. Everything, from the effects to the puppets themselves have been painstakingly sculpted and put together from basic and unconventional materials even. Seriously, how many stop-motion movies can you think of made use of real fur and hair?

It’s simply amazing once you see how much work has gone into the film. Not only does it fill you with great respect for the people who worked with Wes Anderson at the time, and it makes you appreciate the film a lot more with all of that taken into consideration.

Alongside with experience voice actors, you’ve also got an experienced musician on the team. Alexandre Desplat, having last won an Oscar for his score for The Shape Of Water, is back with another movie soundtrack, and it is pretty dang decent. It’s kind of hard to explain the soundtrack, but I would have to say it’s a combination of traditional Japanese instruments and Western orchestra? I’m probably very wrong, but that’s all beside the point. The point is that the soundtrack for Isle of Dogs is well-made and has a distinct charm to it, filled with motifs that you’re bound to notice as you watch the movie; It perfectly matches Anderson’s quirky aspects of the film. However I do not particularly recommend listening to it on its own since it is very repetitive, which works in the movie, but not very well by itself. But still, I would definitely at least check it out.

So in the end, what you’ve got with Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a phenomenal movie that deserves to be watched by any film-enthusiast out there. Although I am sure some of you out there may not care at all for Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking, I’d be hard-pressed to hear that Isle of Dogs would be a bad movie as a result of it.

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  • Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs
4.5

Summary

Isle of Dogs is a fun and enjoyable movie overall. It has the right combination of light melodrama and dark, quirky humor.

It’s certainly not for everyone out there, but for those of you who are into that sort of thing, you can buy tickets online here.

So for those of you who have seen the movie already, what did you guys think of it? I personally think it’s not as good as Grand Budapest Hotel, but at the very same time, I’m not quite so sure.

Either way, great animated film.

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