Thanks to the recommendation of a fellow movie lover after my review of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), I’ve finally gotten around to checking out Isle of Dogs (2018). And after realizing it had been a decent while since I last reviewed an animated movie, it seemed like perfect timing! Currently streaming on Disney+ (in Canada), Isle of Dogs is a stop motion animated science fiction drama that is written, produced, and directed by Wes Anderson. The film is also packed full of voice talents including Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand and Scarlett Johansson. With masterful storytelling that completely draws you into this fictional world, Isle of Dogs proves to be a delightfully charming and entertaining watch that I was not expecting.
Similarly to Fantastic Mr. Fox, while Isle of Dogs isn’t the prettiest of animations, there’s something mesmerizing about the look and feel of the stop motion visuals. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the more I watched this movie, the more I enjoyed how everything looked. There’s just something distinctly unique about it and I love how one look is all you need to identify this as a Wes Anderson film. The sort of gritty and almost ugly appearance of the characters and environment give the movie the right amount of style and flair that make it ironically and surprisingly beautiful. Not beautiful in the sense of the film being good-looking or attractive, but in the sense that it’s got a funky and charming aesthetic.
And with visuals so quirky, I’m happy to say that the plot manages to equally match this creativity. I always love finding movies that feel unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and for me, Isle of Dogs is just that. The story is wildly imaginative but still contains realistic elements pertaining to our world that make it feel personal. With a nice hint of humour that isn’t so much laugh out loud comedy as it is grin-worthy, it perfectly balances out some of the more emotional moments. The pacing was pretty decent too, although it did feel slightly stagnant during the middle section. But other than that, it was an all around solid plot with great execution.
My favourite aspect of Isle of Dogs was how the entire film was centered around playing with the common belief that dogs are “man’s best friends”. Taking the complete 180 route, it was so interesting to witness a world where the majority of citizens hated dogs and supported their extinction. While this specific scenario of throwing all canines away onto a trash island is highly improbable, the film does an excellent job at bringing to light the power of propaganda and corrupt government. Because what really caused this hatred towards dog was fear, and the movie does a brilliant job at showcasing how fear can be used for selfish gain and intent. There’s really two battles happening simultaneously in this movie: Atari is fighting to find and bring home his dog Spot while the rest of the “pro-dog” believers are trying to expose the Mayor’s devious plans. I love how Isle of Dogs is so much deeper than being just a film about dogs; there’s complex issues being discussed that are relevant to our own world.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the story through Chief’s perspective and hearing how his experience as a stray affected his relationship with humans. Bryan Cranston did a wonderful job voicing Chief, providing a sort of mature yet stubborn nature to the character. A lot of the more heartfelt moments of the movie came from Chief’s growing relationship with Atari and seeing the transformation he underwent as he learned to accept the child’s care and love. He essentially became an entirely different dog once that boulder was broken – he was compassionate, protective, and obedient. Above all else, friendship is what’s really at the heart of this story, and it was really beautiful getting to watch that blossom between Atari and Chief, reaffirming that dog really is man’s best friend after all.
With thoughtful writing, visually creative animations, and an engaging, character-driven storyline, Isle of Dogs was much more of a pleasant surprise than I had anticipated. I admittedly didn’t expect too much heading in, but I was blown away by the end. It’s not the loudest of movies, in fact, its simple story works to its advantage. There’s no distractions that take you away from what’s important, it’s all about taking in the movie’s message. Nothing super flashy or bold really happens, but it still manages to captivate you with its uniquely compelling story. And at the end of the day, that’s all I really care about. As a solid movie I will definitely have to rewatch in time, I’ve decided to give Isle of Dogs a 9/10. While the film has received great reviews from critics, it seems to be rather underrated with not much buzz around it. So if this is the first time you’re hearing about this movie, I highly recommend you give this one a try. Sometimes the best movies are the ones you’d never expect.