Film Review: Isle of Dogs

by Lachlan Anderson

Rated PG. Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray. Directed by Wes Anderson.

Few movies could be easier to sell to a room full of movie execs than Wes Anderson’s doggo-dominated Isle of Dogs. But his latest film isn’t just the puppy extravaganza that many would imagine with such a title. A spiritual successor to his stop motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox, this film is brimming with Wes Anderson’s trademark aesthetic and penchant for blending off the wall humour and pathos.

In a near future Japan all dogs have become diseased and are subsequently exiled to the Isle of Dogs, a former dumping ground off the coast. 12-year-old Atari defies the orders of his evil cat loving uncle, Mayor Kobayashi, and goes to the island to save his dog Spots. Along the way he is helped by a pack of exiles, which includes hardened stray Chief (Cranston). On the mainland opposition to the dog ban grows in the student body as the Mayor’s evil plans begin to come to light.

Never one to do things by convention, Anderson has pushed the envelope well and truly with this film; most notably in his decision to translate all the dogs into English but retain the vast majority of the Japanese dialogue as is, without subtitles. The rest of his usual tricks are on show and used to great effect including highly symmetrical framing, pastel colour schemes and perfectly deadpan humour.

Cranston is joined by a ridiculously huge cast that also includes Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray; not to mention the entire Japanese cast and a small battalion of Anderson collaborators in cameo roles. Most of the dramatic heavy lifting falls to Cranston, who handles it well, but it leaves other characters without a lot of punch, beyond the occasional one liner.

Given they’re the main characters to speak in English for the whole film, it’s easy to identify more with the dogs than the humans. Cast out, shabby and needy, man’s best friend is in desperate need of rescue. Hope arrives in the form of a devoted owner though. We too were exiled from our own devoted owner, creator and Father, mankind’s true best friend. Fewer filmic illustrations in recent years have so perfectly captured the gospel as the relationship between the loving Atari, and bitter Chief, whose independence gives way to trust (and an explicitly symbolic bath scene).

The Verdict: Whimsical and whacky, Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (read: “I Love Dogs”) delivers what it promises and more with laughs, moments to tug at your heart strings, and yes, plenty of dogs. Possibly not one for the kids, definitely not one for cats. 4.5/5 (or K-9 out of 10).

Isle of Dogs is in cinemas now.

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