Isle of Dogs (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Wes Anderson makes some pretty unique and equally incredible films. His style is clear and distinctive, even with Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), which was his first foray into feature-length animation – and there was no question who directed it. Nine years later, Isle of Dogs (2018) follows in its predecessor’s footsteps and is another amazing entry into Anderson’s filmography.

Isle of Dogs demonstrates what Anderson does best

In a Japanese archipelago twenty years in the future, all the dogs have been banished to Trash Island. The film is from the perspective of the dogs – primarily a pack of alphas – named Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). When a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) arrives on the island in search of his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), the pack of alphas are torn about helping him.  Chief calls for a vote amongst the pack, and he is outvoted. Of course, there is a bigger story going on with the corrupt mayor, the dog flu, and it’s impending cure, which shapes the rest of the film.

The voice cast in this film is insane. Besides the ones mentioned in the plot summary, present are Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton, to name a few. Anderson’s choice to keep the Japanese characters speaking Japanese and only translating it via electronic devices or actual translators was interesting and impressive. The dogs’ barks are translated into English, which is why they’re the subject. It’s an intriguing turn in perspective that makes the film all the more memorable. There is humor, heart, and honesty in this film that really showcases a love of dogs and their masters. Cranston gives what may be his best performance to date as the voice of Chief: a stray who has never found his place in a domestic situation but finds himself forced to help Atari. As they journey together, the bond that begins to form is so believable and touching.

The animation in the film is also excellent. Anderson used a similar claymation style seen in Fantastic Mr. Fox, but finds opportunities to introduce 2-D animation into the claymation world. There are multiple moments where we see events playing out on a television monitor that is done as 2-D, which is also fantastic. The blending of the two styles in the same film is entertaining and really demonstrates his great skill in the medium.

The story could be discussing a variety of political topics, but the emotional beats between a boy and his dog really resonate the most. There is so much to enjoy about Anderson’s newest film and the performances of his cast. Goldblum’s dog constantly having new rumors as a running gag always brought laughs to the audience. Tilda Swinton voicing a dog named Oracle who gets her predictions from understanding the television. Edward Norton’s Rex always trying to be the hero and do what’s right is inspiring.  There is just so much love and attention to detail shown in this movie.

Final thoughts…

Isle of Dogs may end up being on of Anderson’s greatest achievements. Grand Budapest Hotel got similar acclaim, and if a filmmaker is able to continuously get better from film to film it is inspiring. Hopefully, his next one will continue in this upward trajectory as he continues to perfect his craft. Isle of Dogs earns the Must See rating.


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