Original Title: Isle of Dogs
Year of Release: 2018
Genres: Animated; Adventure
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson
Main Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Koyu Rankin
While I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson fan in the world, I do have a fondness for his films, not only because of his stylistic trademarks and attention to detail, but because his stories always resonated emotionally for me. My two favorite films of his are The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tenenbaums, both films about dysfunctional families that have a solid emotional core thanks to believable characters and smart dialogue.
Maybe this is what made me love Isle of Dogs less than most of Anderson’s work: the lack of emotional connection. Maybe that is because I have never owned a dog (blame it on family-inherited allergies), or maybe because the script and story felt very unfocused and without deeper meaning. The film is entirely set in Japan, and its gimmick is that all the Japanese characters are voiced by famous Japanese actors (including Ken Watanabe and Yoko Ono) who talk exclusively in Japanese, and, instead of using subtitles, you only understand what they are saying if there is a translator talking in English, otherwise you are left completely clueless of what these characters are saying (a stylistic choice that I like, but that most will not understandably accept).
The main cast is comprised of dogs, secluded on an island for they are considered dangerous, and they are all voiced by famous English-speaking actors, with an impressive cast that, due to their monotone delivery (as with most Anderson joints), does not have much opportunities to leave a lasting impression. The standout among the canines is easily Bryan Cranston, who voices the stray Chief: his character was the most interesting and the most developed out of all of them, with some genuinely touching moments toward the end.
The stop-motion animation is among the finest I have seen, looking both artificial and smooth in every movement of the characters. The backdrops are gorgeous, and the colors are vibrant and intoxicating, making each symmetrical shot feel exciting. There are also plenty of details in both movements, facial animations, and backgrounds, making the whole experience very rich. The humor worked wonders for me, making me smile for the entirety of the film.
The only issue that I have (as previously stated) is with the story: it starts off as an homage of classic Japanese cinema (mainly Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa), but the closer you get to the ending, the more you understand that there really isn’t anything deeper to the story. It is more of a mature take on a simple kids’ story, rather than a satire or critique of society. There are also some slight pacing issues whenever the film cuts back to a foreign-exchange student voiced by Greta Gerwig: all her scenes felt inconsequential and filler, with the character itself being slightly annoying. A shame, cause everything that is set on the island was very charming, fun, and a delight to watch.
Overall, Isle of Dogs is a delightful animated film, absolutely gorgeous to watch, wonderful to listen to (Alexandre Desplat delivers once again), and entertaining from start to finish. Its only drawback is its story, very simple and straightforward, lacking any of the depth and strong emotions of Anderson’s previous work.
Visual Effects: 10
Violence & Gore: 6
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 2
Intensity & Horror: 4