Isle of Dogs (2018)
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, & Kunichi Nomura
Directed by Wes Anderson
Twenty years in the future, Japan is overrun by an outbreak of snout flu that leads to all the dogs in Megasaki City being sent to Trash Island by Mayor Kobayashi. Kobayashi’s nephew Atari steals a small plane and crash lands on the island on a quest to save his best friend, Spots. Atari unites with a pack of friendly dogs who want to help him travel across the island to find Spots. However, Chief is a stray who doesn’t like the idea of helping or being around humans. To succeed in their journey, Chief will need to overcome his past and learn how to be a good dog.
If you don’t already enjoy director Wes Anderson’s specific style, then I can’t see you liking Isle of Dogs. However, if you have enjoyed the revitalization of his comedic senses in recent work like Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, then you will adore Isle of Dogs. I fall in the latter camp. The film was the exact experience I was looking for. I loved Anderson’s first foray into feature-length stop-motion animation in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs is a considerable jump in technical skill.
In the same way, Anderson’s live-action work has meticulous attention to detail, so too does the world of Isle of Dogs. From the opening scene, framed a story being told by the sage dog Jupiter. We learn through a series of paintings that the Kobayashi’s have had a hatred for dogs since the days of the shogun. And while the movie is set in the near future, the aesthetic is reminiscent of 1960s culture. The color palette and clothes are reminders of Anderson’s love of the late 60s/1970s. He has said in interviews that he was partly inspired by the Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials of that era.
I have no qualms in saying that Wes Anderson is my guilty pleasure in the same way that Michael Bay is another filmgoer’s. Both directors are deeply entrenched in a personal style that can overwhelm the plot and character of the stories they tell. They inject a lot of their sense of humor into their works to the point that if you don’t gel with that sensibility, then you will be intensely turned off by their films. Watching Anderson reminds me of reading through an incredibly dense coffee table artbook where you can spend hours combing over images for their detail.
Beyond the exterior, Isle of Dogs tells a very heartwarming story, much like a children’s novel in the vein of Roald Dahl. This is a world where adults are exaggerated in their evil and drawn in amusing caricature. Children are plucky heroes able to overcome their typical exclusion in the big decisions of society and stake out a claim. The dogs of Trash Island get just enough brushstrokes of personality that we get a sense of them and this is one place where Isle of Dogs falters in comparison to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I felt that Fox’s large cast of characters felt a bit more developed in their personalities than the characters present in Isle of Dogs.
Isle of Dogs is a fun, masterfully crafted adventure that isn’t chewed by cynicism. With all of Anderson’s worlds, he pulls back the curtain just enough for us to watch but leaves us with a sense that the scope of this universe exceeds the boundaries of the screen.