Separating a boy and his dog is a dangerous idea, but always makes for good entertainment. Isle of Dogs is an animated film that is best suited for adults-and it’s a wonderful time at the movies. First, let me tell you a little bit about the movie.
Writer/director Wes Anderson’s latest explores the lengths at which a 12 year old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) will go in order to find the dog assigned to protect him, Spot ( voiced by Liev Schreiber), who was dumped on a island by his vicious uncle. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Numora) fears that his city is becoming saturated with sick dogs (infected with a flu-type virus), so he signs an order that pulls every single dog out of their homes and assigns them to an abandoned island. Thus, the isle of dogs.
In a film stock full of political satire and inside jokes, it’s best to appreciate the little things, because this film has so many wonderful details.
The truth is I’m not a big fan of Anderson’s work. He is first class eccentricity and his films aren’t easy to connect to or love. Imagine Noah Baumbach with a broader scope and drier sense of humor. The Grand Budapest Hotel was good work, but most of Anderson’s films alienate me in the end, coming across as good looking yet too artsy of films to hang your heart on. Isle of Dogs changes that, infusing you with humor, heart, and a subtle middle finger at the current political climate. Some will take the film’s politics as propaganda fitted with animation to soften the blow, but I liked the wink-wink gestures laid throughout the film.
The film kicks off six months after the casting out of the dogs, when Atari, the ward to the Mayor, goes rogue and pilots a plane to the island. Once there, he joins forces with the informative Rex (Edward Norton), quirky Boss (Bill Murray, a frequent Anderson partner) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), and reluctant stray, Chief (a brilliant Bryan Cranston) to find Spot. Cue the adventures, both funny and whimsical, that the five get into together.
Chief is a loner who bites without thought and doesn’t know how to connect, but finds an opening when the kid presses him to be better. The parts are tailor-made for the actor’s strengths, especially Norton and Goldblum. Every time the pack of dogs tries to make a decision, they have to take a vote, even when facing exterminating fires and dangerous captors. Anderson strikes a balance between youthful adventure and outright comedy.
When I say it’s suited for the older crowd, it’s due to the variety of jokes and tone of the plot. My six year son wouldn’t like some of the rough imagery early and would be isolated from understanding the outlining texture of the story line and metaphors on display. If your kid is 10-12 years old, feel free to test him out with this feature. Any kid younger won’t appreciate the film and in turn, ruin the experience for the adults. The PG-13 rating is there for good reason.
My takeaway from the movie was simple. Dogs are a part of the human culture and way of life, and if you mess with that, you’re in for a world of hurt. My mother would lay down her life for her two dogs and my son would do the same for our dog, Roscoe. It’s impossible to watch this movie without thinking about your pet being tossed on a dirt pile in the middle of nowhere-and what you would do to rescue them.
What starts as a rescue mission for Spot is a bigger conversation about our world’s vicious need to segregate problems instead of solving the problem and fixing the issue. When a proposed cure is presented to the elder Kobayashi, he dismisses it, a man content with a bad decision. Tell me that doesn’t happen in real life. If a filmmaker can make an animated movie and find wickedly smart parallels in the process, he’s a talented individual.
Isle of Dogs will make the common adult feel like a kid inside, but make them laugh out loud and keep their brain wired to the modern dilemma at the same time. Few filmmakers could have pulled it off, but the outside the box dancing Anderson does it with ease.
Also, if you give two of my favorite actors and VOICES, Schreiber and Cranston, juicy roles with heart, I am all in. The cast, which also includes Greta Gerwig as a fiery journalist and Frances McDormand as a tireless interpreter, is aces across the board. You can see why so many gifted talents wanted to be a part of this picture.
It’s a unique film with a big heart and a lot of laughs. The 101 minutes flies by easily.
Dare I say find a babysitter, skip the Tomb Raiders and Pacific Rims, and hang out with a pack of rebellious dogs for a couple hours.
If you want something different, check out Isle of Dogs.