Isle of Dogs: Worth Barking Over

When my two friends and I entered the theater to see Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, the first thing we noticed is that every seat was empty except for one dad and his young son; and I have to say, Isle of Dogs is a dish best enjoyed in a quiet setting. It needs your full attention. It deserves your full attention.

To explain the plot briefly, I will quote the synopsis from the official Isle of Dogs website:

“Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies to Trash Island in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.”

While it sounds bizarre, it’s actually very exciting.

From the very first frame, I knew this would be a visually stunning movie. The harmonious color palettes fit well in Anderson’s portfolio of vibrant, whimsical, and at times very subtle films. The animation is reminiscent of Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), but it’s clear Anderson has developed and grown as a director since the children’s novel adaptation hit theaters.

The characters in this movie are all distinct and fully formed. Each dog (and human) you meet will leave you with a sense that you know them. This is quite a feat considering the size of the cast, and Anderson accomplishes it without leaving the audience unsatisfied.

Compared to the almost psychedelic backgrounds and bright colors of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs feels stark. But that starkness is what contributes so much to the tone of the film. The setting switches between lush dystopian near-future Japan and an industrial deserted island covered entirely by trash (to which all dogs have been banished, per mayor’s orders), and when we see that colorful luxury immediately preceding the cloudy skies of the island, the injustice of the situation becomes undeniably clear.

The music includes Japanese taiko drummers, but also other more unexpected artists like The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, with their neo-psychedelic motif “I Won’t Hurt You.” Anderson has an incredible understanding of how to make an audience feel what he wants them to feel, and every decision from the character design to the framing shows true mastery of his craft.

For me, this film felt nostalgic. If you were a kid when Fantastic Mr. Fox was released, you will feel the same way. It was like a comforting blanket of childlike animation with a storyline and sense of humor that is suitable for teenagers and adults. It is rated PG-13 for some mild violence (dog fights covered by cotton plumes of smoke, explosions, robo-dogs) and very mild cursing, but I would argue that it’s possibly more family friendly than Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was rated PG. The spirit of the film is evocative of a small child playing doctor. It’s absurd and it’s juvenile but the characters take these absurd and juvenile situations very, very seriously–with lines like “all barks have been rendered in English,” and a dog named Oracle who claims to see the future but in reality is the only dog on the island who understands TV.

Overall, this movie is a warm blanket of cuteness with an adorable hero and distinctly unique canine characters. Personally, I think everyone on earth should watch this movie, and I think you should watch it in an almost empty theater to let the feelings flow. If you, like me, were in elementary school when Fantastic Mr. Fox was popular, you’ll love it. If you never saw Fantastic Mr. Fox but you like animated movies, you’ll love it. If you’re an adult and you like to laugh, you’ll love it.

If you love dogs, you’ll adore it.

Now, just like Atari, I’d like to leave you with a haiku.

A story so sweet,

You will say “aww” audibly.

(Falling spring blossom.)


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