“Isle of Dogs” Una-PAW-logetically Charming
by Israel Gomez
Wes Anderson’s latest film “Isle of Dogs” immerses viewers in a bizarre world of talking dogs and totalitarian Japan, with striking visuals and that classic, quirky Anderson humor. Shot using stop-motion animation, the film brings a cast of ragtag dogs to life through stellar voice acting and writing.
The film opens with a summary of the conflict between man’s best friend and the people of Megasaki, a fictional city set in Japan. Mysterious diseases have run rampant in the canine population, leading the majority of citizens to fight for the eradication of dogs. Mayor Kobayashi, a dictator set on ridding the city of dogs, leads the fight by approving the exile of dogs to Trash Island, an island that serves as the city dump.
The audience comes to learn that the first dog to become exiled, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber) was the bodyguard to the mayor’s ward, 12 year-old Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin). Atari decides to take matters into his own hands and flies a plane to the island, hoping to find Spots. He is taken on a journey across the island to find Spots by a group of dogs led by Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston), a rough stray dog who has a history of biting.
The time and effort put into the animation immediately strikes the viewer. Stop motion animation films create movement by taking pictures of objects as they are moved inch by inch. It is a long process, but pays off big time with lively animations. Anderson brings his cast of characters through meticulous and purposeful movements, sparing no detail in their facial expressions and costumes. You can see the dogs’ hair ruffle with the wind and tears swell up in their eyes during emotional moments, of which there are many. The stop motion allows a viewer to observe the tiny mannerisms of the characters, and in a unique way, it can be more entertaining than fluid cartoon animation.
Not only the characters are detailed though; the environment around them beautifully immerses the viewer into the world. Although Megasaki’s cityscape is rarely displayed, it looks vibrant and wonderful when it is, filled to the brim with skyscrapers and a volcano looming in the background. Trash Island is made up of mound upon mound of rusted debris and rotten scraps of food. It is very similar to the world in Pixar’s “Wall-E” from 2008; a lasting image of humanity’s tendency to use and toss to the side as we please.
For the audience, seeing this lovable cast of dogs discarded as easily as trash is heartbreaking. The voice acting is wonderfully delivered, even if some characters’ personalities do not shine through as much as others. Cranston’s deep, gruff voice compliments Chief’s strong, lone-wolf personality perfectly. Edward Norton voices Rex, another alpha dog who contrasts Chief’s rough leadership with a cooler, yet still sound, head. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban voice Duke, Boss, and King, respectively. Although these three dogs do not stand out on their own as strongly as the other two do, their chemistry as a pack shines through.
The humor of the movie is also wonderfully fitting for the story. The characters are not intentionally funny with their dialogue, but the deadpan delivery of their lines can make the simplest phrases hilarious. While the audience can laugh and enjoy themselves, the humor does not outweigh the drama too heavily, and viewers do not forget the somberness of the situation these pups find themselves in; forgotten by owners who once groomed and loved them, left to starve on an island of trash. It is depressing, so every once in awhile, it helps when the dogs gossip about local dog news.
Although the film’s plot is absurd, the themes present certainly are not. From propaganda and media manipulation to deportation, the film echoes a lot of problems one can find in our own society. For people looking to pick apart the movie and its critiques on society, there is plenty of material and moments to pull from. However, the film is most enjoyable when you try not to overanalyze, and watch it simply as a charming story about a 12 year old boy trying to find his dog.