REVIEW: ‘Isle Of Dogs’ Is A Witty, Funny Stop-Motion Animation Venture

Nearly a decade after producing the stop-motion feature “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Director Wes Anderson is back with another film using the same animation style, this time with “Isle of Dogs.” Like his previous animated feature as well as his other live action films, Anderson adds his own flair in both the visuals and writing.

“Isle of Dogs” takes place in a completely fantastical world. The movie is set in the city of Megasaki, located in Japan. The city seems to be a thriving metropolis except for one problem, the canines living there are infected with “dog flu” and have become a nuisance for their owners.

As a result, Megasaki’s mayor, who appears to have unlimited political power, directs all dogs in the city to be moved to Trash Island. As one would guess, the island is where all of the city’s trash is brought to. The film picks up with the lead dogs, consisting of Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). The story of this pack really gets underway when they come into contact with a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), who is searching for his own dog.

The story of “Isle of Dogs” is very simplified, with the lead characters more or less just trying to get from point A to point B. Like other Anderson works, this allows for a very heavy emphasis to be placed on the characters, the dialogue and even the visuals.

These are the real driving points of “Isle of Dogs,” making it a charming and entertaining feature. The interactions between the lead dogs are overflowing with wit and humor, which hooks an audience and can keep viewers engaged from start to finish.

This is especially true with Chief and Rex, as the two go back and forth with each other on what decision the pack should follow. The rest of the pack is great too, though, such as Duke constantly bringing up rumors he’s heard.

The movie also opts for the main human character Atari, to speak Japanese without any subtitles, meaning the dogs and the audience (those who don’t speak the language at least), don’t know what he’s saying. It’s sort of a clever reverse on the traditional ‘boy and his dog’ story. Emotionally, we know where Atari’s coming from, but there’s still a mystery around what he’s saying, which leads to some great responses from the dogs who share the audience’s thoughts.

Another character that’s a bit hit or miss in the film is Tracy (Greta Gerwig), a high school student opposed to the mayor’s dog rule and attempts to reverse the law. At times her character feels a bit shoe-horned into the story, but at the same time, she is in some well made scenes.

Placing additional plot threads into “Isle of Dogs” creates one of its main flaws, that it runs a little too long. The film clocks in at about an hour and 40 minutes, and it could have used some trimming of roughly 10 minutes for a round hour and a half.

Another issue with the movie mostly comes up when it comes up to the film’s emotional impacts. While the film certainly does have a heart, the relationship with pets being its core, so much of the movie is portrayed in a way that’s over-the-top. As a result, an audience might not leave the theater feeling overwhelming emotion.

Back on the positive track, it has to be noted that the film looks excellent. Stop motion has always been a bold animation style, as it takes a monumental effort and precise care to produce. The effort is clear in “Isle of Dogs” with, with the setting and characters having fascinating designs and fluid movements. There’s a sequence that especially stood out where a cure for the dog illness is being developed with multiple machines and watching all the gears click and the manufacturing work is a joy for the eyes.

There’s a lot to like about “Isle of Dogs” thanks to Anderson’s writing and directing along with some solid voice performances. While the movie has its flaws, this is still worth seeing. 3.9 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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