Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban
Director: Wes Anderson
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: In this stop-motion-animated film from writer/director Wes Anderson, an outbreak of canine flu in Japan leads all dogs to be quarantined on an island. A boy (voice of Koyu Rankin) journeys there to rescue his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and gets help from a pack of misfit canines who have also been exiled. His quest inspires a group of dog lovers to expose a government conspiracy. The voice cast also includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono.
I am so happy we live in a world where Wes Anderson can do no wrong. Everything this man touches is either visually stunning, emotionally unique, or one of the biggest risks to pay off in years. Isle of Dogs continues the decades long tradition of Wes Anderson turning everything he touches to gold. With a stacked cast of voice actors, some of the smoothest animations I have ever seen, and writing that is both hilarious and emotionally moving, make Isle of Dogs one of Anderson’s best in a career filled with all-time greats.
The film takes us to futuristic Japan where an outbreak of dog-related diseases has caused the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) decrees that all dogs are to be removed from the fictitious Japanese city of Megasaki and sent to Trash Island to live out the rest of their days. Seeking his displaced dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) the young nephew of Mayor Kobayashi, Atari (Rankin), goes to Trash Island to get his dog back. There, he runs into a group of five displaced dogs; Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), who team up with Atari to find Spots and bring dogs back to Megasaki. The most obvious element that anyone can take away from this film is how smooth the animation was. This was honestly one of the cleanest versions of animation I have ever seen, and at points I thought I was watching a live-action movie. All good animation takes top-tier talent, effort, and passion, especially when it comes to stop-motion animation, and all of those are on display throughout the movie. The way the colors pop off the screen, whether it is the hallowing reds from a thriving city or the dark desolate shades of gray and brown that make Trash Island the death sentence that it is, really shows how powerful this animation style can be when used correctly. I also enjoyed the elements of Japanese culture that were prominent throughout the film. The music choices really complimented the storyline and another beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat soothes us when we need and gets us excited when we are supposed to be. In regards to the language barrier, I thought it was presented in a way that was a little difficult for the viewer, but it made logical sense. Realistically, dogs in English-speaking countries do not know what we are saying, but they recognize certain words based on what they give the dog (food, toy, walk, etc.). I cannot imagine that being different in a non-English speaking country. Having the dogs speak English was for our benefit, but I felt it conveyed a similar feeling of confusion to us as the dogs were going through. While I thought the role of the translator was unnecessary and would rather have it replaced with subtitles, it was not bad enough to take away from an otherwise intelligent script.
Through all these great moments however, there were still opportunities that I believe could have benefited from a change or two. One thing is that the inclusion of Tracy (Greta Gerwig), the female love interest for Atari was unnecessary. Besides the fact that she was the only English-speaking or American character in the film, I felt like she was only there to move the plot along. I do not believe she added anything that a Japanese actress could not add and it felt strange seeing an American in this environment. Outside of that, I felt as though the flashback scenes for Spots went on far too long. I understand we are supposed to see what he was doing on Trash Island before Atari got there, but they were distractingly long and took me out of the main story for a bit. Taking out a small detail here or there would have saved these moments from dragging on as long as they did. My final point in an otherwise spectacular movie is how underutilized the supporting cast is. This cast is stacked with elite talent from the lead roles to the characters with only a few lines, and to see some of these actors not get the time and recognition they deserve is disheartening.
Overall, Isle of Dogs is as beautiful, heart-warming, and charming as ever from a man who has already given us so much throughout his career. The comedic style and timing of actors like Murray and Goldblum are borderline perfect and add another fantastic element to an already wonderful film. In order for the film industry to improve, we need directors and writers to take risks, be innovative, and follow their heart, which is exactly what Wes Anderson and his talented team did once again.
Overall Score: 8.5/10