Outside of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, I haven’t been exposed to Wes Anderson’s directorial work (Before any comments come in, Fantastic Mr. Fox has already been recommended to me). Seeing what I’ve seen from Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has a certain whimsy to his movies. But whimsy doesn’t last forever. While seeing Isle of Dogs, his second stop-motion animated film, the modern-day auteur shows that he has a lot more left to keep audiences interested and laughing.
(This review is spoiler-free)
Set in a dystopian near-future Japan in the fictional city of Megasaki City, man’s best friend has become canis non grata. In the name of public health, the mayor has all dogs have been banished to Trash Island, a ravaged atoll where house pets, showdogs, and purebreds live along in misery with scrappy mutts. But when a rebellious 12-year-old crashes a plane on the island in search of his loyal companion, a ragtag pack of dogs assist him in his quest.
The story begins with an early prologue set “before the age of obedience” before the narrative arrives at the current setting. While the movie does have dark allegory of persecution and internment, it does have light-hearted, deadpan humor, mostly on the island with the dogs. (An early note informs viewers that the people while be heard mostly in their original Japanese, while the animal’s barks are translated directly into English.) Anderson gathered a motley cast of weirdos to do the voiceovers including Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, even Yoko Ono. The wise narration voice of Courtney B. Vance kept the audience involved as the story progressed.
While the story on the mainland was interesting through the first two acts of the film, affecting what was happening on the island, it was the happenings of the island that I really wanted to stay with. The dogs had their own cultures, tribes and a lot of rumors among the tribes. It was like a canine version of high school on that island and it was great to see. The dogs, with their tactile tuffs of fur and wide eyes, have an enduring, complicated humanity about them. It made them relatable and care about them more. However, a word of warning: this movie might not be completely suitable for children. For all its enchantment, the story does not swerve away from the more frayed realities of the world with poisoned hearts and maimed paws. The singularity of the story, no big swerves, served it well and made it speak to every creature in the theater.
Treat your dogs right, everyone.