REVIEW: “Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion masterpiece

By Mariana Carvajal-Munoz, Staff–

With his ninth feature and second stop-motion film “Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson once again proves himself to be one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation.

“Isle of Dogs” is set in fictional city of Megasaki. After an outbreak of dog flu, a virus that causes such symptoms as aggressive behaviour, weight loss and insomnia in canines, tyrannical mayor Kobayashi signs a decree that effectively banished all dogs of Megasaki to a nearby dump known as Trash Island. The first dog to be sent away is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who belongs to mayor Kobayashi’s nephew, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin).

A few months later all the dogs from Megasaki have been deported. The film focuses on the journey of five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and Chief (Bryan Cranston). The pack struggles to find decent food to eat among all the rubbish and become very violent; Chief in particular, as he bites off another dog’s ear during a fight for a bag of food. We later learn that Chief was a stray dog and that he has previously gotten in trouble for biting.

Meanwhile, Atari Kobayashi decides to steal an aeroplane and fly to Trash Island to look for Spots. He crosses paths with the five dogs, who decide to help him in his journey. Chief is reluctant to do this, but since the pack votes on all decisions, he is outnumbered. He also meets a purebred dog named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), who tells him to help Atari because, “he is a twelve-year-old boy and dogs love those”.

The audience also gets to follow other characters, including American exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), who suspects corruption in Kobayashi’s decree; Watanabe (Akira Ito) and Yoko Ono (Yoko Ono), two scientists who disapprove of the decree and seek to find a cure to dog flu, and Kobayashi’s Major-Domo (Akira Takayama), the principal villain of the story.

If there is one thing that Wes Anderson has proven time and time again it is that he is a fearless director. Whether it be the bold crime comedy “The Grand Hotel Budapest,” the coming-of-age romance “Moonrise Kingdom” or the Roald Dahl adaptation “Fantastic Mr Fox,” Anderson is not afraid to go all out and produce something spectacular, albeit sometimes controversial.

“Isle of Dogs” is no exception.

Anderson made the decision to have all Japanese human characters in “Isle of Dogs” speak in Japanese; their lines were sometimes translated by Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand) or Tracy. Having been inspired by such iconic Japanese filmmakers as Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, Anderson intended “Isle of Dogs” to be his love letter to Japanese cinema. Even so, some may find that he did not handle Japanese culture as respectfully as he should have. This review is not intended as a social critique of Anderson’s film, but it is worth noting that having characters speak in Japanese is an example of the risks that the director takes.

Animation-wise, “Isle of Dogs” is unconventional but spectacular. In a time where all the big studios seem to be abandoning old school forms of animation in favor of computer animation, the stop motion in “Isle of Dogs” looks like nothing we have ever seen before (except perhaps “Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Every single shot is brilliantly detailed and this, paired with Anderson’s signature cinematographic style, makes “Isle of Dogs” stand out.

The movie also boasts a star-studded cast, including Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton and Greta Gerwig. All of them do a very good job voicing their characters.

Aside from animation and cinematography, the screenplay is perhaps “Isle of Dogs” biggest highlight. Anderson manages to write a film that at funny, clever and heartwarming all at once, even with the use of two languages.

Over all, “Isle of Dogs” is a fantastic film. It has Anderson’s signature mark, with an influence of Japanese cinema, and ticks all the boxes that make for a true modern classic.

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