Isle of Dogs Review
There are merely a handful of directors who I will happily follow into the movie theater, no matter what subject matter they choose, no matter what risks they are willing to take, no matter what their new movie is about. There are only a few directors who have developed such a clear command over their craft, that even if they have a rough year (and believe me, nobody is perfect) that doesn't seem to matter. The next film they put on the books, I am willing to go to the theater to see. Wes Anderson has become one of those directors.
Simply put, we don't have another Wes Anderson out there. There is nobody else in the business with a dryer deadpan sense of humor. There isn't another director who is writing more original dialogue and characters, except maybe Quentin Tarantino. (But trying to compare Tarantino to Anderson feels like comparing apples and oranges) There is also nobody else in the business who seems to have a firm grasp on stop-motion animation. Its been a while since Tim Burton shot a film this way, and I never would have guessed that Wes Anderson would have been the guy to bring the idea back in such witty style. In 2009, his "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was one of the best films of the decade, and perhaps Anderson has struck gold again with "Isle of Dogs."
"Isle of Dogs" features some early narration by the Courtney B. Vance, because it wouldn't be a Wes Anderson movie without some narration of some kind. The narrator explains that dogs became the best friends of an ancient Japanese tribe, but the rival Kobayashi tribe (who were more cat people) tried to defeat them because they didn't like dogs. When Kobayashi's rivals were near defeat, a savior came in and saved the day. Now in modern times, a decendent of Kobayashi is now mayor of Megasaki City. When a dog-flu virus breaks out, he orders all dogs, stray and domestic, to trash island. Even though a scientist Professor Watanabi (Akira Ito) is close to a cure. Kobayashi wants all the dogs out of the city, and then he secretly wants to kill all the dogs once he's reelected in an upcoming election.
We then meet dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) form a group to help stay alive six months into dogs being transported to Trash Island. Though Chief doesn't really care to go back to mainland Japan since he was the only stray in the group, the other dogs do. Suddenly, a human boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) crash-lands on the island, determined to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Chief and his pack decide to help Atari, although Chief is reluctant to join his pack since he has a slight distrust of humans.
As you can see from above, the film is packed with the usual yet dependable Anderson regulars bring the voices to life for the dogs. They all do outstanding work. As I sat watching this movie, I was scared that the recognizable voices would get distracting. But do to the animation, the style of the movie and the sense of humor of the script, its actually kind of perfect hearing Bryan Cranston's voice come out of a big, black dog. Not that he is alone. There are a ton of good Anderson regulars here; including Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Anjelica Huston and Fisher Stevens. Scarlett Johansson also appears and does good voice work. This isn't typical animation, and Anderson finds the charm in putting these dog characters together.
His eye for stop motion hasn't wavered a bit since 2009, and the world of this dystopian future of Japan may not look real, but its completely realized. There is just a pinch of realism that makes the movie fun to continue to follow through. And Anderson is just as playful in world-building as he was in 2009.
I may have been a little biased. My wife and I have two dogs of our own, one is six and the other is almost two. We love them with every fiber of our being, and they are so spoiled and so much apart of our family that I even put them in a picture of our family specially created for our one-year anniversary. There are some that may snicker at that, but I don't care. There seems to be a very fine line between people who love dogs and people who only see them as dogs. This is a movie that definitely tests that line in people. The dogs that inhabit Trash Island, even the tough strays, are in need of a home, they miss their masters and they are being discarded by people who only see them as dogs. Any pet, no matter what they are, is a part of your family. I am one of those dog owners who truly believes that my two dogs are apart of my family. I can't think of another movie about dogs that so playfully and gleefully has fun with that concept without shamelessly playing with your heart-strings. But leave it to Wes Anderson to do just that. I hope we see more Anderson in stop-motion worlds, especially when he's got such fun stories to tell.
FINAL GRADE: A