With blockbusters like A Quiet Place and Avengers: Infinity War in theaters, it can be easy to overlook smaller films like Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. I’m here to tell you that to ignore this quirky stop-animation film would be a mistake. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest theater because Isle of Dogs is playing with a limited release in only a select few locations.
From the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Moonrise Kingdom emerges Isle of Dogs, a drama/fantasy featuring the voice talents of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Scarlett Johansson, among others. Don’t be fooled by the animated aspect of this PG-13 rated film; it’s definitely entertainment for the whole family, and critics certainly agree. With a 91% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and an 8.2/10 from IMDb, Isle of Dogs is getting praise from it’s smaller-than-deserved audience. If you enjoy Wes Anderson’s work, this movie will not disappoint. It’s as delightfully weird as his other stuff, with a charming attention to detail, witty dialogue, and a heartwarming story.
Speaking of, I should probably provide a bit more context at this point. At the risk of spoiling the movie, I’ll insert a quick description courtesy of Google: “When, by executive decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.”
Much like Anderson’s other films, this movie is organized into sections and features narration by American Crime Story’s Courtney B. Vance. While the dogs, the narrator, the translators, and one American foreign exchange student (voiced by Greta Gerwig) speak English, all the Japanese humans speak in their native language. Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs does not bother with subtitles, but instead allows the expressions of its characters, context clues, and voice inflection to communicate to it’s audience. Trust me, it’s effortless to understand what the Japanese characters are expressing; it’s actually pretty refreshing not to read subtitles and adds nicely to the atmosphere of the movie.
On the surface, Isle of Dogs might be written off as a weird kid’s movie. While my six and nine-year-old cousins, a girl and a boy, respectively, loved the movie, I’d be remiss if I did not stress the PG-13 rating. Anderson’s 2009 animated movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which starred big names such as George Clooney and Meryl Streep, was rated PG. Isle of Dogs is certainly appropriate for kids, but it should be noted that some darker themes, including suffering, death, and disease are explored. There’s nothing explicit, however. In fact, the fight scenes are simulated using cotton balls (it’s stop-motion, remember?). I think some of the rating can be attributed to the use of “curse words” such as “bitch” and “damn”, though, to be fair at one point “bitch” was used to identify a female dog.
If you find yourself looking for something to see this weekend, give this movie a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed by the visuals, the stylization, the story, and the heart in this film. Isle of Dogs was clearly a labor of love for Wes Anderson and deserves much more attention than its gotten from the general public. If you love dogs, I promise you will fall in love Spots, Chief, Nutmeg, and the rest of the dysfunctional crew on Trash Island. Cat-lovers, sorry.