“Isle of Dogs” Movie Review


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     If you were to view any of director Wes Anderson’s films, having not watched one previously, the likely reaction would be something along the lines of having never seen anything like it.  In other words, the film would leave you with the vibe of having just witnessed an entertainment that was both original and thought provoking.  Of course, if you’re a fan of Anderson’s work, which now includes 9 feature films, than you know he operates within his own world, creating film experiences significantly different than everyone else’s, but also at the same time very similar to each other.  Anderson, whose most recent efforts include 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, departs to the animated feature realm with his latest film, “Isle of Dogs”,  the story of a young boy searching for his dog on a deserted island just outside of a fictional Japanese city called Megasaki.  Included within the talented voice cast are many of the director’s regulars such as Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jeff Goldblum, and a host of others.

     The fact “Isle of Dogs” is an animated feature doesn't at all retract from Anderson’s signature visual style, particularly in the way the camera moves through each scene.  Ever present are his favored tracking shots, quick pans, and zooms that all seem to move and turn at 90 degree angles.  The environments the animators have created retain much of the normal color palette utilized by Anderson in his previous work, though the subject matter here lends to a darker approach, particularly during the scenes within a place called Trash Island.  In what may remind you of similar settings in “WALL-E”, the island has become home to all of the dog population of Megasaki.  In a cruel turn of events, the Mayor of the city, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), signs a proclamation that banishes the city’s canines to the island due to an outbreak of what is dubbed as “dog flu”.  He also seems to have an affinity for cats, as does his entire political party, which contributes to such a rash decision.

     We first meet 12 year old Atari (Koyu Rankin) as he crash lands a rickety one man plane on Trash Island, having crossed over the body of water that separates the wasteland from Megasaki.  Stunned from the crash, he is greeted by five of the island’s alpha dogs who in this film we are told in the beginning talk as a result of the translation of their barks.  Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) don't really know what to make of Atari and what reasons he could possibly have for his journey to the island.  In fact, given the shortage of decent food, the group first ponders eating him before coming to an agreement of determining his origins and helping him heal from his injuries.

     It turns out the dogs, who all originally came from Megasaki, cant understand a word Atari says, but ultimately, a picture he provides of his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), indicates why he has come, as Spots was once his official guard dog before becoming the first to be sent to Trash Island.  Delving deeper into Atari’s story, we learn he was orphaned at a young age when his parents where killed in an accident, leaving him to become the Mayor’s ward and creating the situation where Spots was assigned to him.  Of course, Atari and Spots have a very close relationship that is not easily broken, particularly when considering the bond Atari has had with the dog since a very young age as shown in a flashback.  So, in essence, “Isle of Dogs” takes us on a rescue mission of sorts, moving about the various areas of Trash Island as guided by the five alpha dogs, looking for possible clues of Spot’s whereabouts.

     In addition to the ongoing rescue mission, an upheaval of sorts against the Mayor and his policies is brewing amongst the younger crowd in Megasaki.  Led by Tracy (Greta Gerwig), a white American exchange student sporting a fabulous afro who has uncovered a conspiracy against the creators of a dog flu cure, a group of unruly teens protests the Mayor during his most recent election to office, causing the fierce dictator to potentially be exposed for his nefarious actions.  It’s the sort of thing that seems to be popular today.  Young kids taking the reigns from the adults of whom they believe are too greedy and self serving to be trusted with important decisions.  Aside from the obvious dog loving angle, that is precisely what Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, appears to really want to say here.  “Isle of Dogs” is all about the underrepresented taking on the establishment and allowing their voice to be heard when the cause is righteous and the masses agree a change is needed.  If only it were as simple in real life as the film presents it to be.  GRADE: B