At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Isle of Dogs

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Animated Sci-Fi Comedy Drama/ Voices of: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood; Narrated by: Courtney B. Vance/ Runtime: 101 minutes

As a film reviewer of some skill and talent, it is my distinct opinion that the genre of animation known as stop-motion really is one of the most unique yet beautiful art forms out there. Indeed I say this because although the skill and efficiency of the modern PC can render in hours what in weeks a team for artists to create by hand, there is still arguably no animated medium in cinema that is truly better at the art of showcasing either an intimate level of detail, a loving sense of completion by hand design, or both. Thus when all is said and done, you ultimately find yourself truly engaged in a diverse movie watching experience due to literally being fully immersed into each shot of this incredibly crafted world while also being rooted into the film’s captivating story.

Of course, it should also be said that, despite being a true art form, there aren’t that many filmmakers in the world of Hollywood with the skill to pull off making a stop-motion animated movie let alone one that audiences and critics will both embrace with open arms. Fortunately we have a filmmaker named Wes Anderson who back in the year 2009 burst into this medium with a film known as Fantastic Mr. Fox, and lo and behold it was a wonderful and lively treat that year. Which now brings us to our movie today known as Isle Of Dogs and I am thankful to say that this film manages to not only be a showcase for just why Anderson is one of the more unique voices in the film industry, but also by combining a love for man’s best friend as well as a significant love and respect for the Japanese culture and their art, you get an immensely enjoyable film that you will want to watch time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Isle of Dogs takes audience members 20 years into the future, where Major Kobayashi of Japan has just announced that a recent and potentially plague-caliber outbreak of something known as snout flu among the canine population has made them into a public health hazard and should not be allowed near the human populace. Thus, and despite a opposing view that a cure for this medical disaster might actually be a reality if scientists are given the proper time to investigate, it is ordered that effective immediately all dogs are to be moved to a place known as Trash Island. Six months later with the entire dog population living on Trash Island, we are introduced to a group of alphas named Chief, Rex, Boss, Duke, and King who run in a pack together and who ultimately find their daily routine of searching for whatever food they can find in the daily garbage dumps rudely disrupted following the crash of a small plane onto the island. Upon further investigation, the pack discovers that the plane’s pilot is none other than the mayor’s young ward Atari, who has gone against his guardian’s wishes in hopes of finding his lost dog Spots. Thus, despite a language barrier making communication difficult and one of the dogs feeling that the rescue is not their problem, it isn’t long before man and this pack of goofy, gruff, and quirky dogs all decide to work as one on a quest across the island in order to discover what really happened to Spots, but along the way this mismatched group ultimately will discover that the future for man’s best friend may just lay in their respective hands and paws…..

Now due to the fact that his previous leap into this realm of filmmaking was actually an adaptation of a story for the kids, this movie actually marks the first time that Anderson has been given the opportunity to be able to create and design a film’s world from top to bottom. Suffice it to say then that he has done such an incredible job that to be honest with you all I have actually interrogated myself on if I am even able to give this film a fair and balanced analysis due to having only seen it one time on Blu-Ray. Indeed this is a movie which seems to be a delightful blender mix of both Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki as seen not only in the dark city of Megasaki, but also the Mad Max-esque, and canine-occupied Trash Island respectively. Yet despite a wonderful and loving showcase for these 2 masters, the film wisely also takes every chance possible to remind you this is still a Wes Anderson film you are watching through the utilization of such filmmaking devices as split screen, caption-equipped montages, and some truly stunning long panning shots that will just make your jaw drop in wonder and awe. Indeed when an audience member watches this film for the very first time I can understand if every trick that this film utilizes from Wes’s bag can get to the point where you are overwhelmed by it all. Yet I would like to point out that this just means that should you choose to give this movie more than one viewing that you will be rewarded for it since you will then be able to sit back and just marvel at the skill and style of the filmmaking that is on display therein.

Now although the film does manage to be a riveting showcase of just what exactly people have always said they love about the films that Wes brings to the table, it also appears that this film actually also contains a degree of maturity from the celebrated auteur. Not only that, but despite being long tied to narratives that deal with the trope known as the “dysfunctional family”, I feel that the last few films he has made have begun showcasing a Wes Anderson who is not afraid to expand his filmmaking horizons. Now to be fair, I feel that you should know movie goers that although Isle of Dogs does possess more a political bent than the other films in Anderson’s filmography, it never once does feel 100% heavy handed and/or crammed down your throat. Instead Anderson wisely chooses to combine it with the peculiarity and allure his films all naturally have in order to make it easier to sit through. Indeed this really does prove not only to be a fantastic next step in Anderson’s career, but it’s also a terrific retort to anyone who ever thought him capable of making only a single kind of film.

That being said I feel it is safe to say that this really truly would not be in some way what one could call “a Wes Anderson film” if he didn’t bring along his group of regulars to help him bring this engaging story to life. Yet despite all his regulars such as Bill Murray all doing predictably wonderful work, the cast is also aided immensely by some new stars who have decided to join the fun for this Wes Anderson go-around. With that being said, the role with the most characterization has got to be without a doubt in my mind Bryan Cranston’s gruff alpha dog Chief due in no small part to the fact that this performance is given absolutely wonderful support to grow with not only an emotional backstory, but also a fantastic arc for the character to go through during the film’s runtime. Yet, despite the fact that the other characters within the film aren’t characterized as strongly, they are nevertheless still utilized to the fullest entertaining extent. Indeed this is because among the main group of dogs, Anderson has managed to endow up each dog a particular peculiarity that really helps each dog stand out in the pack. Indeed while the other characters don’t really ever take over the film at any particular time during the runtime, they do however help contribute to a more vibrant and engaging background. Plus the fact that Anderson has a wonderful familiarity with a lot of the actors behind the voices in this film means he has an idea of just what material each actor is particularly gifted at utilizing. It is thanks to this deep knowledge that Anderson possesses in droves that this is a film which manages to bring both laughs and an extremely high degree of humanity from the film’s beginning all the way to the closing shot.

All in all Isle of Dogs is only the ninth film that Wes Anderson has given to the world, but like his other movies this is phenomenal proof that he still has many more stories he would like to engage audiences with for years to come. Indeed Isle of Dogs isn’t just a fantastic return for Hollywood to the stop-motion animation style of filmmaking. It is also a film that, with the backing of an astounding amount of talent lending their gifts to the proceedings, really does act with regard to the best of what exactly the film’s writer/director can do while simultaneously also showcasing brand new and exciting avenues for him to explore. On a scale of 1-5 I give Isle of Dogs a 4 out of 5.