Isle of Dogs (2018)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
  • Director: Wes Anderson
  • Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Koyu Rankin, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel


Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.


  • Isle of Dogs (my latest review) is the best form of animation. Stop-motion animation that is. As a film about a young boy searching for his dog (via an island where illness outbreak pups are banished to), “Isle” is a technical triumph. It has director Wes Anderson using his required trademarks to make eye-popping grandeur a complete understatement. This is Anderson’s ode to fictional Japan, his form of made-up dystopia that he was born to put out.

    In Isle of Dogs, Wes gives us a rinse, repeat cycle of wide-angle clips, close-ups, various title cards, random flashbacks, and whip pans. Sure his narrative is a little choppy, his storytelling way overzealous, and his plot points too aplenty for a flick rounding out to 101 minutes. Still, “Isle” is a midnight stoner’s dream, a feast of lushly framed scenes so detailed and itemized that you can’t help but demand a second viewing.

    For instance, check out a sequence where an animated chef is making sushi with a poisonous wasabi. Also, check out a depiction of a garbage bag filled with dumpster diving food. Finally, look for a sequence where a doctor persona is performing a blow-by-blow kidney transplant. Anderson is wise here to give us his signature camera shots from up above. It wouldn’t work any other way.

    All in all, the characters in Isle of Dogs are voiced by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber and Cranston handle the majority of the dialogue while everyone else sort of fades in and out. In truth, my favorite Wes Anderson film of all time has always been Rushmore. “Isle”, with its beautified dirtiness, its form of deafening taiko drumming, its tongue-in-cheek squeak, and its V for Vendetta banality, comes in at a close second. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B+


    IN BRIEF: An inventive animated film with much wit and a pedigree of mischief too.

    JIM’S REVIEW: I am enamored by animated films. As a child, I was amazed that a series of drawings was able to “move” and created an emotional story of worth. Back then, (we’re talking the 50’s / 60’s), the animated full-length feature was a rarity with the Disney Studio being the primary source of that genre of entertainment. Nowadays, with computer generated and stop motion movies being more common, and many studios venturing into state-of-the-art animation techniques like the reliable Pixar Studio and Aardman Animations, among other lesser sources, the allure may have faded somewhat and the results from the many prolific studios vary in quality, if not quantity. It seems that either the visuals overtake the narrative or vise-versa. It is so rare that both meld successfully into the final product. Wes Anderson’s quirky and clever animated feature, Isle of Dogs, almost makes that leap of story and visual balance. It has scenes of total brilliance and political satire done with imagination and flair, even if the story ultimately wears thin and settles for a contrived ending to please the masses.

    The simple tale relates the story of a boy searching for his lost canine friend. Set in the distant future in Japan, dogs have been banned and shipped to a trash heap island due to a contiguous outbreak presumedly caused by dogs. One of the first to be banished is Spots, owned by an orphan called Atari. This boy is determined to get his pet back and goes off to rescue him. He lands on Trash Island and is befriended by a quintet of raggedy mutts, namely, Rex, King, Duke, Boss, and Chief. All journey together to find Spots and uncover more than they bargained for.

    Written by Roman Coppola, Jason Swartzman, Kunichi Nomura, and the director, the film takes its storytelling quite seriously depicting a “love cats, hate dogs” polarized society, an Orwellian world that is controlled by a fascist dictator. The dogs are literally the underdogs representing the oppressed class. All of this dramatic structure is heavy-handed and in need of a few re-writes to clarify characters and the events that transpire. Still, the stop motion animation is most skillfully rendered, especially in its superb details of discarded refuse and hand drawn backgrounds. There is much to admire from its color palette, stylish compositions, and imaginative littered landscapes.

    Mr. Anderson’s vision focuses on this dystopian place using aerial views, shadows, and lighting to maximum effect. He injects this adult-oriented film with subtle touches of unexpected wit and droll humor (ticks scurrying in the dog’s fur to show the squalor, a boy’s bloody face with a impaled metal rod becoming an annoying yet forgotten appendage, shadows of figures quickly traveling against mounds of detailed garbage, a dead fish head still moving on a nearby plate as lunch is being prepared, etc.) These slightly macabre moments give the film an indelible sense of glee and mischief and show off this off-kilter universe. Another clever conceit is that the human words, mostly spoken in Japanese, is explained through translation while the dog’s “barks” are the main English dialog. Whimsy is Mr. Anderson’s forte and his penchant for good spirited fun.

    The voiceover work is uniformly strong. Koyu Rankin voices Atari and Liev Schreiber is his friend, Spots. Vocal support comes from Bryan Cranston (displaying a wonderful tone of ongoing despair) Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray as the Canine Five. Other star-studded friends of the director add their talents in minor roles: Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Greta Gerwig, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Courtney B. Vance, and Yoko Ono.

    Isle of Dog is a masterful ménage of lovely animation and unique storytelling that make this movie going experiences a howling success.

    NOTE: The opening and closing credits of the ensemble taiko drumming is marvelous. Four paws up!

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