Adventure Animation

Film Review: 'Isle of Dogs' Tackles Darker Themes, While Still Remaining Fun and Quirky

March 23, 2018Sherry Li

Isle of Dogs is a beautifully made, clever and vibrant story co-written and directed by Wes Anderson. It has a fantastic cast, including Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban and Scarlett Johansson, all of whom do an amazing job voicing and bringing to life the fantastic stop-motion animation in the movie.

The story, set in dystopian Japan, follows Atari (Rankin), the 12-year-old ward of Megasaki City's Mayor Kobayashi, after dogs have been banished to Trash Island. Atari, whose bodyguard-dog Spots was the first dog sent off to the island, escapes from Megasaki City to try and find him again. After he makes a crash landing, he befriends a group of dogs, including the reluctant Chief (Cranston), a tough stray who wins fights and warns that he bites. Meanwhile in Megasaki City, a group of students protest the dog ban and try and expose the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi.

The film's stop motion is incredible, feeling incredibly smooth throughout the movie, with each scene packed with small details and beautiful cinematography. It's a brilliant display of the art of filmmaking through stop-motion. Though Isle of Dogs has many classically Wes Anderson-esque visual stylings like symmetry that bring his flourish to the film, it's the tone that really helps distinguish itself, as the movie, which appears light on the surface, tackles darker subjects and more of a political plot line.

Topics that are touched upon include animal testing, political corruption, pollution and immigration (not to mention paranoia). It is a very topical and current film wrapped up in a package that appears cute and innocent on the surface, however the messages it sends are not too blatantly obvious and don't take away from how enjoyable and clever it is for those just looking for a fun experience. While the movie does take on darker themes, it still manages to regain a fun and quirky feeling after some of the more sad or political moments.

The one issue I have with the film is that it is a foreign exchange student named Tracy, who happens to be a white American girl, who leads the students protesting the anti-dog laws, trying to expose the corruption in the city. It seems a bit strange when they could've used a local character who could have had a real tie to Atari and Megasaki City. However, it might have just been a workaround so that the characters in the movie speak English, as Atari and most of the other humans, speak Japanese without subtitles, while the dogs speak English. The audience is left trying to interpret what Atari is saying, through the perspective of the dogs.

Overall, Isle of Dogs is a fantastic film with a really solid script and amazing visuals, making it a must see for fans of Wes Anderson and dog lovers alike.

Isle of Dogs releases March 23rd, 2018 from Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. Its runtime is 1 hr. 41 min.

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