It’s so genuinely rare to find that balance between severity and genuine humanity blended together in the same piece of art…
With Isle of Dogs, Writer/Director Wes Anderson does it again with a film that is rife with the eccentric characters that have become his trademark that always still manage to project something unique and relatable for its audience. It’s the encapsulation of the human experience as he’s never afraid to give us some misery, as long as there’s an underpinning of genuine whimsy.
Isle of Dogs takes us to the story of one 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 called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river 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.
Quite simply this is a whimsical tummy rub of a movie that you can’t help but smile at while still seeing some genuine emotional stakes and gravitas. This is a stop motion master stroke that is overloaded with love and appreciation for everything from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and even some of the broader strokes of some of the best in Japanese cinema. It’s a love letter to the moving image that we simply don’t deserve.
Only Wes Anderson as both writer/director/producer could make a heard of abandoned mutts on an island of garbage feel as visually lyrical as it is emotionally poignant. It’s rare to get a film filled with allegories about internment and unnecessary persecution gets to feel like it is sliced from the imagination of the love child that Jacques Tati and Akira Kurosawa had that we just never knew about. It’s so damn heartwarming and the amount of humanity that we get out of this rag tag group of dogs is just stunning and only Anderson could get to the very nature of humanity and our occasionally unnecessary cruelty through the eyes of man’s very own best friend. Films this expertly mounted are few and far between with a musical score from the Academy Award winning Alexandre Desplat that fits the tone of the material to a tee. He’s very obviously paying homage to his influences while changing the way we perceive a film of this nature in so many dynamic ways, it would take me far too long to list them out.
It’s a rare thing to actually say out loud and will undoubtedly sound like hyperbole, but Isle of Dogs is actually too good.
As the players from his ensemble get us into the narrative, the stern yet tender narration of Courtney B Vance telling the tale of these loveable dogs led by the reluctant Chief who is made so dynamic and alive by the voice work of Bryan Cranston that we not only buy into the struggle of these dogs too get off the island and save the entire prefecture but to acknowledge and accept the love that they so richly deserve. Filled from top to bottom with Anderson’s usual players along with the likes of Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Ken Wanatabe and Liev Schreiber joining in the fun it all plays like an embarrassment of riches, and we should probably just be thankful that we got invited to the party.
With Isle of Dogs you need to imagine something like the 1978 grim animated fable Watership Down but told with whimsy and a hope of a happy ending. This film is the pure joy of storytelling in all of its forms put into the expressive eyes of our favourite pets. It’s easily one of the more humanistic pieces of cinema that we’ve seen in recent memory and you’ll want to go again as soon as it’s over.
Isle of Dogs opens in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles exclusively this Friday before expanding wide all across North America.