Isle of Dogs: Four Legs are Better Than Two

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Director – Wes Anderson

Writer – Wes Anderson

Starring – Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson

Rating – PG-13

Genre – Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Metascore – 82/100

Rotten Tomatoes – 90%

Wes Anderson is at a point in his career where he has complete creative freedom, and it shows in his ninth feature length film, Isle of Dogs. This is a film about a Japanese city that bans all dogs, and a boy who goes to the greatest lengths to rescue his dog from exile. Anderson has perfected his auter expression in film with immaculate framing, deadpan humor and intricate set design. Isle of Dogs is another transportive invitation into his creative mind. While it doesn’t feel like a new Anderson movie, it effortlessly entertains with the same quirky tone that we’ve come to expect.

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Anderson usually writes tight and intricate dialogue for an ensemble of characters. Isle of Dogs is no different, except that it splits its characters into two groups, dogs and humans, each with an equal amount of screentime. We bounce from the action packed Trash Island, where our dogs fight to survive, to the mainland where the political battle for dog’s rights is waged. Unfortunately, the human side of this film is bureaucratically tedious. Anderson chooses not use subtitles for the Japanese characters which means that we have a translator for every scene which initially is attractive and unique but becomes tiresome as the movie goes on. Further, the human characters of the film are woefully underdeveloped and uninteresting. The dogs easily outperform their two legged counterparts, making the film feel off balance. Eventually these two storylines merge, but it comes at the cost of losing screentime with the dogs, and when it all comes together the result is lackluster.

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The pack of dogs are superbly voiced, each with distinctive qualities and quirks that make them valuable as a crew. The writing for the dog’s share of the movie is action packed but also takes the time to have quiet moments to reveal what is happening underneath the surface in our furry friends. Along the dogs’ path there are twists and substantial character revelations but they don’t come across cheap, they are believable and compelling. Anderson adeptly weaves his own social commentary into the dogs’ story and succeeds.

Aside from a bad split of screentime, this movie was everything I hoped it would be: rich in Japanese culture with references to Asian cinema such as Akira Kurosawa along with a swift score that keeps us ready for action. Each character feels as though they could have their own adventure in this world that Anderson develops. 

Isle of Dogs fades in the midst of Anderson’s previous accomplishments. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s first stop motion film, has characters with greater depth and is a perfectly tuned film as opposed to Isle of Dogs, which will only hold its place as a creative expression of Japanese cinema, pushed aside when compared to his wider body of work. Despite that, Isle of Dogs is an exceptionally joyous dive into a rich culture.

Author: Jesse Ingram

499 Rating: 7.2 / 10

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