Movie Beat: Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ odd but charming


By Jenniffer Wardell

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images

Screenplay by Wes Anderson, story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura.

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and more

Grade: Three and a half stars

 

“Isle of Dogs” is spectacularly odd, but in a good way.

Though those familiar with Wes Anderson’s work know that “offbeat” is the only type of movie he makes, the director’s latest is something stranger and more magical. It’s a children’s story for adults that seems transported in from a slightly alternate universe, a sweet, slightly dark adventure about love, belonging, and fighting for what’s right no matter who or what is standing in your way.

In a Japanese city “20 years in the future,” a wildly infectious dog disease has caused them all to be exiled to a trash island. When the young ward of the city’s leader steals a plane in order to get to the island and rescue his beloved dog, he’s found by a group of strays who have to confront their own feelings about their lost masters. Add attack robots, a bunch of student protestors, a pack of potentially cannibalistic wild dogs and a secret conspiracy, and you end up with a surprisingly gripping story despite the fact that about a third of the dialogue was in Japanese.

(The important bits get translated, and the rest of it either makes sense in context or the emotion comes across clearly anyway. As the movie itself points out, all the dogs’ dialogue has been translated into English.)

An important thing to remember, however, is that just because it’s stop-motion animation doesn’t mean it’s a kid’s movie. Kids might be OK with it, but there’s a kidney transplant, a chewed-off ear, and some talk of “mating” that never gets at all detailed but may raise some questions. Older kids might really enjoy the movie, but use your judgment.

Even adults without kids should be careful not to confuse “animation” with “kids.” There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this movie, including some pretty pointed political commentary that seems particularly relevant. It’s not in favor of a specific party (though it definitely takes sides in the great cat vs. dog debate), but it says a lot about letting yourself get swayed by popular opinion and hating for no reason.

Of course, kids and adults alike will probably end up paying more attention to the surprisingly sweet, highly emotional story. Anderson is known for his whimsy, but “Isle of Dogs” feels like it has more meat on its bones than some of his earlier works. It also feels like his humor has shifted slightly, becoming a little more grounded in reality while still keeping that same distinct Wes Anderson touch. If you’ve wanted to like him in the past, but found it a little too hard to embrace the excessive whimsy of his aesthetic, now might be the perfect time to give him another chance.

Of course, the movie isn’t perfect. I will never fully understand Anderson’s fascination with a particular type of pale, quirky woman, and I wish we’d gotten subtitles or translations for more of Atari’s dialogue. I still got the point, but I feel like I missed a lot of the nuance.

In the end, though, the pros of the movie far outweigh the few scattered cons. “Isle of Dogs” isn’t your average, everyday adventure, but that just makes it all the more magical.

 

(Photo © Fox Searchlight)

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