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‘Isle of Dogs’ is Wes Anderson’s love letter to dog owners and lovers

 By Jonathan Shuping

April 10, 2018

Some directors have such a distinct artistic style that permeates their films that you could almost separate them into their own subgenre. If Christopher Nolan is the Norman Rockwell of non-linear storytelling, Tim Burton is the Van Gogh of Goth, and Spike Lee is The Dali of the Dolly Shot, then Wes Anderson is the Warhol of Whimsy.

Isle of Dogs is the follow-up to Anderson’s first stop-motion outing, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In this sophomore effort, an outbreak of “snout flu” prompts the cat-loving Kobayashi clan, who represent the leadership of the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, to banish all dogs to Trash Island, which is as horrible of a place as it sounds. A few months later, with the island fully populated, a young boy named Atari makes his way to the island and enlists the help of a peculiar yet noble pack of dogs to search for his lost best friend Spots.  

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The pack’s alpha is appropriately named Chief, a disaffected naysayer, always in opposition to the inclinations of the rest of his pack, probably due to his shadowy past. While the other dogs were all previously house-trained and cared for by their owners, Chief was a stray, forced to roam the cruel world on his own and survive any way he could. It’s his arc that provides the backbone for the story with the help of the outstanding voice talents of Bryan Cranston.

While all humans speak in their native tongue (mostly Japanese, translated via interpreter), all barks are delivered in English, and Wes Anderson has assembled an amazing supporting cast of voice actors including Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schrieber, and Harvey Keitel, who are all in top-notch form.

Edward Norton as “Rex,” Jeff Goldblum as “Duke,” Bill Murray as “Boss,” Bob Balaban as “King” and Bryan Cranston as “Chief”. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

In addition to reuniting him with several previous Anderson movie alums, Isle of Dogs contains all of the familiar Wes Anderson staples: symmetrical framing, elaborate plans, silhouettes, and the ridiculously meticulous visuals fans of the filmmaker have come to love. They will not be disappointed here. The dogs are constructed in greater detail with stronger personalities than the human characters, especially in the eyes. The large, brightly-colored canine eyes starkly contrast the small, dark, and beady eyes of their human counterparts. It’s a step up in craftsmanship over Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Though it certainly feels like Isle of Dogs was adapted from a children’s book, it is definitely not a kids movie, not because of anything inappropriate or explicit but because the dry humor is simply not intended for younger audiences. The jokes are all aimed at people who stand well over 3 feet tall and will soar over the heads of even the most precocious little ones. This is not The Secret Life of Pets.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Most of all, Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s love letter to all the dog owners and dog lovers out there. To anyone who has ever wondered, “Does my dog have a favorite food?” or “That dog is watching TV; does it actually understand what’s happening?” Right or wrong, these questions are asked and answered in a gladly and lovingly acceptable fashion in this film.  

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

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