By: Jessica Goddard
A loving tribute to man’s best friend, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is an imaginative, playful, and visually fascinating stop-motion fable that should appeal to animal lovers of every kind. Endlessly clever and unapologetically fun, this movie keeps you guessing and isn’t afraid to misdirect for the sake of a good twist.
Set in a Japan of the near future that’s been threatened by an outbreak of “dog flu” and “snout fever”, all dogs have been exiled to Trash Island, a literal island of garbage away from the mainland where the dogs are abandoned and pretty much left for dead. When a twelve-year-old boy steals a plane and flies to Trash Island to retrieve his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), he’s greeted by five mangy canines who decide to help him out instead of eating him – starving as they may be. The most cynical of the pack, Chief (Bryan Cranston), was a stray dog before being sent away, and has a chip on his sickly shoulder from his poor relationship with humans in the past. Meanwhile, a side plot involving a group of student activists trying to uncover and expose the corruption and anti-dog bias of the sinister (and cat-loving!) mayoral government supplies a better understanding of how and why dogs were banished in the first place.
While Anderson’s status as an auteur needs no reinforcing, this film is so finely crafted and meticulously detailed it stands out as a whole work of art nearly devoid of comparison. The narrative is winding and unpredictable, backed by a witty script and a stacked cast of voices with a keen understanding of the filmmaker’s signature style. Paradoxically, the art is often extravagant in its simplistic design, with a level of imagination and creativity that never stop impressing from beginning to end.
A labour of love to dogs, or to Japanese culture, or to the thought experiment of the dystopia, this film is full of heart and absolutely necessary in our moviegoing era of repetitive, raunchy romc-oms and relentless superhero blockbusters. Isle of Dogs is destined to be a classic, whether it becomes a forever-celebrated cult favourite or an instantly-recognized standout in the Wes Anderson canon.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod