Is there anything on Earth as pure as a dog’s love?
It’s obvious how much Wes Anderson adores our canine companions in his animated love-letter to man’s best friend, “Isle of Dogs,” a film that’s as grungy and loveable as the fur on a mangy mutt’s back.
In a nightmare future, Japan has exiled its entire dog population to Trash Island after an outbreak of dog flu virus.
After crashing onto the island a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) is looking for his bodyguard and best friend, Spots the dog (Liev Schreiber). The boy is aided in his search by a pack of five other alpha dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and King (Bob Balaban).
It’s hard not to have your socks charmed off while watching “Isle of Dogs.” Though the plot can get pretty grim, the pairing of Wes Anderson’s direction and script, dogs and stop-motion animation is one of the most synergistic combinations of ideas put on the silver screen in ages.
Trash Island is an ostensibly gross, grimy place, but every scene in “Isle of Dogs” is shot in such varied and creative ways that make the film beautiful and a true delight. The camera might casually pan back and forth between two dogs as they hold a conversation or may be so zoomed out that a plane crash is amusingly underscored. Every shot’s a painting: a large reason why the film is so endlessly engaging to watch.
Anderson’s signature hipster flair also takes full advantage of the silly animation style as dogs tussle and interact with each other in hilariously frenetic movements that perfectly capture the energetic essence of the loveable little beasts down to the way they sneeze.
With Anderson’s quirky dialogue, the film’s many, many dogs are just as captivating, if not more, when they speak. One example of this is when Rex, Duke, Boss and King reminisce about their favorite foods and vote to decide on what the pack will do next. It’s also genuinely touching to see Cranston’s gruff loner street dog, Chief, slowly develop an affection for Atari during their search for Spots.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the film’s humans speak almost exclusively in Japanese. It’s a brave, if odd creative choice by Anderson that’s been received with accusations of culture appropriation and stereotyping. There’s nothing truly disrespectful about Anderson’s portrayal of Japan, though, and the film actually touches on relevant themes regarding the use of manipulative ostracization by people in power. If anything, the Japanese setting gives a unique heightened flavor to the film’s drama that might have been lost without it.
“Isle of Dogs” is a perfect follow-up to Anderson’s last animated classic, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” With so much care and attention put into making it, there is much to love about “Isle of Dogs,” and not a whole lot to not.
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hpvalverde.