Isle of Dogs
My grade: A-
I found it challenging not to compare this film with Wes Anderson’s first stop-motion animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is one of my favorite films. Comparisons aside, this is a good movie. It’s hard not to commend Anderson for devoting the last four years of his life to developing this film: he wrote and directed it and was in charge of the film’s visuals. I’ve been meaning to google Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation studio. Does he have one? It’s amazing the time that goes into animating this film: from the tufts of fur on each dog, to the moist eyes as characters cry, or even the ticks that sometimes show up on the dogs’ fur, this film is a visual marvel.
As an animal lover, I was immediately invested in the story. I sure wanted to see these poor, sick, tick-ridden, starving dogs get off trash island and back into the arms of their loving masters. Among the first things I noticed about the film was the tone. It is noticeably darker than Mr. Fox, which employs warm oranges and yellows and sports plenty of jokes. This film is dark, favoring greys and browns for most of its run-time. And it’s to great effect. The authoritarian Kobayashi regime deserves to be painted as intimidating. I found myself wondering if this movie could be enjoyed by both children and adults alike. With the focus of the film on the dogs, I imagine the appeal is broad. There are plenty of frightening moments that, had I been the age of a child, would have had me hiding in the arms of my parent. I was surprised that subjects like murder, deceit, and cannibalism were brought up here. As an adult I didn’t mind this, but I worry for the children seeing it.
I love how Anderson mixes the dark tone and cruel treatment of the dogs with the humor which is found by the understated temperaments of the dogs. I love an early scene in the film where the main pack of dogs casually discuss the contents of a bag of trash before brawling with a rival pack over the same bag. I suppose it displays how a real dog can be territorial, but also very loving in the hands of its master.
The film managed to raise several thought-provoking questions about ethical animal treatment and also produce a study on how people need their pets for emotional support. Quite often, a pet can be a worthy substitute for human companionship. The relationship between 12-year-old Atari and his dog companion, Chief, reminded me of my love for Hunny, our family dog.
Though I was thoroughly entertained by this film, I wish there had been more emphasis on humor. I felt the film was a bit too heavy on the serious tone represented by the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi. That being said, the jokes had me chuckling throughout. I think my favorite joke involved a dog who was seen by the other dogs as a prophet, though she received her visions through watching the human characters’ news broadcasts. There was a surprisingly effective redemption story around the stray dog Chief (voiced wonderfully by Bryan Cranston) that was emotionally touching. I recommend that families see this film, but leave the little ones at home.