Review of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs
By: Manny Perez
I have been a Wes Anderson fan since the Royal Tenebaums. The story, of a wacky family coming together in what they think is a time of crisis, blew me away. The funny characters, loopy stories, and visual experience of an Anderson film is what draws me to them time and time again. Anderson took a leap into animation with Fantastic Mister Fox. He returns with Isle of Dogs which is a stop motion film with amazing effects! The opening scene is a marvel to look at. Three drummers open up the film playing drums at a rapid and trance like pace. The classic Wes Anderson tone is set early on. Like in all his films, amazing actors, like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goodblum, Francis McDormand, and Scarlett Johansson lend their voice to this one. They bring marvelous voice overs to the many unique and funny characters. Now being a Wes Anderson fan you didn’t have to tell me that the plot was going to be interesting, odd, and hilarious. At that is exactly what we get here.
The film takes place in the not so distant future and fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. The city is under an almost dictator like rule by Mayor Kobayashi, who is part of a family that are cat lovers. Snout fever has broken out amongst the dogs of Megaski. The fever has caused social problems like aggressiveness towards humans and the Mayor believes the best form of action is to ban all dogs to Trash Island. In good faith he offers up his family pet dog, Spots, as the first dog to be transferred out of the city and to Trash Island. Spots is actually the guard dog and protector of the Mayor’s nephew Atari.
Time passes and more dogs are transferred to dog Island. Atari embarks on a mission to retrieve his dogs spots. He makes it to trash Island but his plane is badly damaged. Five dogs, Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Goldblum), Boss (Murray), and Chief (Cranston) rush to Atari’s crash site. Chief is the leader of the group but is singled out due to him being the only stray dog while the others came from households. This becomes a running joke throughout the film until we learn of Chief’s importance to the story.
At this point it is important to note the dogs “barks” are translated for us into english while Atari speaks Japanese and his words are not translated. It makes for a funny dynamic between the dogs and Atari. The audience and Atari can still relate even without subtitles as Atari is simply a Little Pilot trying to get his dog Spots back. Chief refuses to help Atari find his dog but is overruled by the other dogs.
Back on Megasaki a cure is found for the Dog flu but Mayor Kobayashi refuses to take the info and cure and instead decides to leave all dogs on Trash Island. Mayor Kobayshi faces opposition from local school kids who believe the government, led by Kobayshi, is corrupt. At this point the story is comedic and zany but there is a political dynamic that is injected into the plot. With the dictator like Mayor Kobayashi, the scientific and student organized push back against an established government, the militaristic and police like Megasaki City, and exile of all dogs from Megasaki one could see a parallel to present day trends and issues.
Atari and Chief begin to bond when they are separated from the pack of dogs. We come to find out, after Atari takes him a shower, that Chief is actually the same breed as Spots. They both continue on the journey to find Spots and finally meet with Rex, King, Duke, and Boss. Spots is believed to be at the “dangerous cannibal dog infested” end of Trash Island. As Atari and the group of dogs reach the final bridge to get to where Spots is they are surrounded by robot dogs and police of Megasaki CIty. A big brawl ensues and Chief, Spots and Atari fall into a river. Spots reveals that he is to become a father, he has become an important leader in his clan, he can no longer be Atari’s guardian and lastly that Chief and him are actually brothers. Spots passes on the guard dog role to Chief.
Mayor Kobayashi believes the answer to the Dog Flu problem is to eradicate them by gas poisoning. Back on Trash Island all dogs and Atari get word of the Mayor’s plan and they travel to Megasaki to stop him. The mayor is about to pass the law to give the go ahead with the gas attack but Atari, Spots, and Chief arrive and inject Chief with the dog flu cure. Back on Trash Island, A local American student has the gas attack only be done to Megasaki police and all robot dogs on Trash Island.
Suddenly a Robot dog attacks Atari and is saved by Spots but is severely injured by the attack and must go under a brain surgery and kidney transplant. Mayor Kobayashi has a change of heart and admits to his wrongdoings and the corruption and donates his kidney to save his nephew Atari. The law actually states after everything happened that Atari is to be the new Mayor of Megasaki and we see Spots and his family back in the City and living peacefully.
This film has the classic journey story. A young boy ventures to find his beloved dog. No dog flu or government decree would keep him from his friend. At one point in the film a scientist ask “what ever happened to man’s best friend?”. This is definitely a dog lovers movie but it is for anyone who loves that bond and connection humans have with other animals. It is also a story about a gang of outcast and misfits who go against the established order. I had a fun time seeing this one and it surely is one of Wes Anderson’s finest works.