Isle of Dogs is everything that you could expect from a Wes Anderson film: a completely original story, intertwined with sharp wit and heartfelt moments, filled with a cast of quirky characters. An overall well crafted film that pays homage to a culture rarely seen in western cinema.
The Isle of dogs tells the simple tale of a city that has banned dogs to Trash Island due to a fear of illness and hatred for canines. A young boy, Akira, sets out on a quest to find his lost dog, Spots. The attention to detail is painstakingly precise and a characteristic of Anderson’s. Stop motion animation provides Anderson with a world in which he can play aesthetic God. Every single shot is beautiful, painfully detailed and absolutely necessary. I cannot express how beautiful this film is.
The film has the dogs speak in the English language, whilst most of the human characters speak Japanese without subtitles. Only on a few occasions are they translated by either machine or a translator, played by Frances Mcdormand, with excellent comic timing. Many feared that this would detract from the film – it doesn’t. In fact it adds to it, even if you only understand english, you can fully understand what is being said.
The cast Anderson has assembled would make any modern day blockbuster look like amateur hour. Acting heavy weights such as Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban are cast as the pack of alpha dogs. The posse then help Akira (a nuanced performance by Koyu Rankin) find his beloved lost dog.
The film falls slightly in lacking a true protagonist. We begin the film thinking that Edward Norton and the pack of dogs are going to play a large role in the film, but sadly towards the final act they seem to get lost in the pack. They aren’t ever given a singular moment to shine, and are instead relegated to filling in plot points and the occasional joke. Big hitters such as Tilda Swinton and F. Murray Abrahams are stuck in the cameo zone having no more than ten lines between them. The script at times can seem unbalanced, which with such well established actors, just leaves you wanting more.
The story is a compelling, nuanced and whimsical madness. It is filled with conspiracy theories, robot dogs and military issue teeth, but because the story has so many plot threads it struggles to keep track of each strand. Because of this, many characters seem to disappear into the background.
I’m sad to say Greta Gerwig’s foreign exchange student Tracy Walker and her conspiracy theory subplot could have been completely cut from the film and would have very little effect on the overall story.
In short, it is overall a beautiful film with a light yet effective story and another great addition to Anderson’s filmography. It is nowhere near as profound as his other work but for a story focused mainly on dogs, it feels his most human.