Isle of Dogs: revisiting a classic

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

Rating: 4.5/5

Spoiler warning: minor spoilers for Isle of Dogs.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs turned five years old last week. If you missed it when it came out, I’d highly suggest you find time to watch it now.

The film takes place in the fictional Japanese city Megasaki, a city ruled by dog-hating cat lovers. All dogs have been banished to the nearby Trash Island, including the dog belonging to the mayor’s nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). Atari crashes on the island, and a group of strays decide to help reunite him with his dog.

The movie is full of the charm audiences associate with Wes Anderson. The plot is a bit simpler than his other projects, but it does what it needs to. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel, the focus here is on the characters, especially on Chief the dog (Brian Cranston). Despite the dogs’ limited facial expressions, they convey their emotions through body language and effective dialogue.

This dialogue is tight, conveying multiple ideas in as few words as comfortably possible. Combined with the dogs’ deadpan deliveries, it creates a sense of familiarity among the central cast. Isle of Dogs also makes use of a classic Anderson technique of giving its characters noticeable habits, such as Duke (Jeff Goldblum) frequently asking his companions if they’d heard “the rumour” about certain subjects. These further establish the camaraderie between the dogs, making them more likeable.

This movie is one of the very few adult animated films that feels truly adult. More often than not, adult animation is actually geared towards teens, relying on excessive violence, sexual imagery and profane language to separate it from family-friendly cartoons. Meanwhile, Isle of Dogs separates itself by having a more mature story that adults can enjoy but children wouldn’t really engage with. 

While for the most part, the film’s adult-oriented story works well, the ending does feel a bit sudden. The villainous Mayor Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has, up to this point, shown no signs of remorse for what he’s done, nor does he seem to miss Akira when he runs off to Trash Island. But after Akira interrupts his broadcast, Kenji renounces his dog-hating ways. It felt like Kenji should have either been more resistant to this change or been upset that Atari is gone; as it stands, this was the weakest part of the movie.

Despite the ending feeling a little rushed, Isle of Dogs is still a fantastic film. It is unlike most other animated films — family-friendly or otherwise — and is a good reminder of the unexplored potential this genre has.

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