ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - “Isle of Dogs” provides one of the most unique animated film experiences in recent memory, combining technical awe, subtle humor, and heartstring-pulling to create an immediate classic that will likely never age.
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight / MGN
The story is set in future Japan where dogs have unfortunately come upon a disease that could threaten the human population. Seemingly to prevent this outcome, the mayor of Megasaki City bans all dogs to a trash dump island just off the coast to live out the remainder of their days. The son of the mayor takes it upon himself to go to the island to locate his lost dog (the first to be removed) and is helped by a small dog pack led by a stray street dog, who refuses to show any pity towards humans.
The most notable thing right off the bat about “Isle of Dogs” is its excellent stop-motion animation. This is such a unique form of animation and, despite its rough qualities, it always provides a charm and basically never really ages. The visuals of “Isle of Dog’s will continue to appeal to viewers as long there is a copy of it in existence. There was a trailer before this film for Illumination’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” which featured the typical modern 3D animation complete with an alarm going off playing “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Gee, I wonder what’s going to be dated in less than a year? With competition like that, it’s easy to see why “Isle of Dogs” steals the show in American animation.
Wes Anderson is easily one of the most unique directors out there. At first glance, all his stuff seems like a comedy, but this film is only that in a subtle manner. Jokes are blunt, dry, and fast. Honestly, there are very few “jokes”, most are just based around the execution of the film. This is assisted by a perfect ensemble voice cast including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Scarlett Johansson. Expect more chuckles rather than knee-slapping laughter. The film holds a great dramatic core around the concept of man’s best friend. If you don’t like dogs, this film may change that.
The use of Japan as a location gives the film a fresh cultural look both in regards to visual and sound design. The soundtrack is one of the most memorable I have heard in some time. Take note Hollywood: the world could use more taiko drumming (On second thought, you might screw it up so don’t bother). Anderson’s use of symmetry is so appealing to the eyes that you question why more filmmakers don’t try to imitate this particular style. You can clearly see thought and effort was put into every shot. Or rather every frame, considering this is stop motion.
The only complaint I could find would that the 3rd act is arguably story-heavy or, in other words, there was a lot being dumped on the audience at once. I won’t go into what happens, but the simple story of dogs helping a boy find his favorite pup does develop into something bigger. Most of this is caused by flashbacks, which the film does actually make enjoyable via stylistic choices. (The movie literally indications when it is a flashback with a text card and they tell you when it is over with the same effect). However, unlike many other films, I can forgive this little issue because the effort and overall style of the film just overshadow it.
Finally, I should indicate that while this is an animated film, that doesn’t mean it is for little kids. There is nothing too graphic (there is a bloody ear) or profane (B-word used hilariously) in the film, but the storytelling isn’t really designed for little kids. The film is rated PG-13 after all. When I saw the film, a family containing about 6 or so little kids entered the theater and they were clearly not interested in what was going on and thus started running around all over the place making noise. The family left halfway in and I am sure they likely wasted 50 plus dollars (probably closer to $100 if they bought snacks). This is not a film to distract and/or amuse children.
For those old enough to appreciate it though, you will enjoy one of the most unique films you will likely see in theaters this year. In many ways, films like this are best because they really make you think “how did they do that”?