Review: “Isle of Dogs”

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Review: “Isle of Dogs”

Maya Morriswala, Jr. managing editor

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In almost 17 years of watching movies, I have never seen anything quite like “Isle of Dogs.”

Written, produced and directed by Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” is a quirky, stop-motion animated comedy film set in a dystopian Japan about 20 years in the future. Due to a dog flu outbreak, all canines are banned to Trash Island and essentially left to die. However, a young boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), flies to Trash Island in search of his dog, Spots. Upon arriving, Atari is rescued by five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and the cold and reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston).

It would be easy to say that the movie is about a boy looking for his best companion with a little government conspiracy on the side. However, I found the movie to be more about the development of Chief after he meets Atari. Before being sent to Trash Island, Chief was a stray dog who did not know true human love and companionship, and as a result, he was awfully cold to Atari when he arrived. In fact, it was not until Chief and Atari were left by themselves that Chief realized the value of friendship and “man’s best friend.”

Another great asset to the film is its frank, dry humor. I found myself silently laughing during the movie because of the sheer ridiculousness of some of the situations as well as the deadpan voices of many of the characters. Even a lot of things that in another context would be very serious were made very funny by the combination of unique animation and voice acting.

Additionally, while there are many who charge Anderson for cultural appropriation, I don’t think that it is an issue that overshadows the film’s good qualities. Yes, Anderson created a caricature of Japan rather than its true self. However, he did not portray Japan in a negative way and instead created an interesting version of Japan that allowed the plot to unfold. If anything, I enjoyed how the film immersed me in their universe with much of the Japanese untranslated and left up to the viewer to figure out based on facial expression and body language.

This is not to say the movie is flawless, though. No offense to Greta Gerwig (because her voice acting is good), but her character, Tracy Walker, is pretty useless. The appearance of Tracy, an English-speaking foreign-exchange student, takes away from all the native Japanese human characters. She also serves the role of summarizing the government conspiracy plot, which is largely unnecessary because anyone who is paying attention can tell that the government is up to no good. The time used to summarize the conspiracy can be used to develop other characters or allow the native Japanese characters to shine. However, at the same time, I do wish there were more female figures like Tracy in the film, canine and human, to balance out the largely male cast.

Overall, I walked out of “Isle of Dogs” wanting to see it again. I loved the dogs and humans alike, and as a dog owner myself, I greatly appreciated Anderson’s message against dog abuse. Most of all, I adored the uniqueness of the film in its style and plot because as hard as it is for films to stand out, this stop-motion managed to grab my attention and become a memorable favorite of mine. Despite its shortcomings, “Isle of Dogs” shines in its characters and messages of harmony and canine companionship, which is well-deserving of an A.

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