Isle of Dogs
Starring Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Kunishi Nomura, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Akira Ito, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Yoko Ono, Courtney B. Vance, Akira Takayama
In the hands of Wes Anderson, a stop-motion animated film with mostly dogs as characters and an allegorical theme will captivate children and adults without pandering to either. Probably by coincidence, writer-director Anderson, with the help of Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura, employ themes of topical relevance today: government corruption, foreign influences on government, student protests, and issues related to animal research. Additional weight comes from a case of repentance of justified charges for crime, followed by atonement. Oh, yes, and murder and cannibalism are covered as well.
Now, you might think from reading the above paragraph, that Isle of Dogs is entirely too serious and doesn’t sound entertaining at all. But hold on—the action in the film is fascinating, rife with chuckling humor and imaginative sets, all accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s wondrous score that enriches every scene. Cinematography by Tristan Oliver and all the production and set design are remarkably artistic and enjoyable.
The story takes place in feudal Japan, where Mayor Kobayashi (Nomura) and his cat-adoring people have decided that dogs are bad (as evidenced by dog flu, snout fever, and other symptoms) and a threat to humans, so must be banished to Trash Island (think of the environment in Wall-E); this is despite a noble scientist (Ito) announcing that a cure is imminent.
It turns out the mayor has a nephew who has become his ward after the child’s parents died. Atari (Rankin) has a beloved dog named Spots (Schreiber), and even Spots has been banished. This is too much for Atari, and in his grief and desperation (and smarts) he commandeers a small plane on his uncle’s estate and flies to Trash Island to find Spots. That’s where many of the adventures and entertaining encounters take place. Every dog has a personality and personal issues to deal with. Anderson is able to insert drama in just about anything.
Suspense is high in making us wonder whether Atari will find his dog (and there is an additional twist there), what will happen to all the dogs we’ve come to know on the island, and what will happen politically in Megasaki City.
There is so much to process in Isle of Dogs that you are likely to want to see it again. Noteworthy is the way the filmmakers bring home messages about justice, right, fairness, and joie de vivre without being condescending. It’s all there for you in the experiencing of the film.
Anderson has his favorite actors, and they are here, along with a host of others for us to admire. I have heard that actors vie to be in an Anderson film, and it’s easy to see why.
Quintessential Wes Anderson in presentation, message(s), thoughtfulness, beauty, and fun.