Review: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs



Wes Anderson


Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura


1h 41m


Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance, Roman Coppola, Anjelica Huston

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images

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A quasi-futuristic society places old grudges above good intentions in this vivid and arresting animated feature from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs.

Set in the near future, centuries after a battle between a proud noble family and the canines who defeated them, a disease has spread among the dog population and a descendant (Kunichi Nomura) of that defeated family has sowed distrust of their faithful companions. With the fervent support of the public, the government agrees to exile all pooches to Trash Island where they can waste away and leave society safe with their absence.

Wanting to get his pet and protector back, the mayor’s ward (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane only to crash land onto Trash Island where he’s beset by a quintet of dogs. Voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray, the six of them venture across the literal wasteland in search of the young boy’s dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) facing stiff resistance from countless obstacles, including the mayor’s men and other physical impediments.

All of the canines in the film speak English, but the other characters are voiced by native Japanese speakers. To enable the audience to understand what’s going on, a news reporter (Frances McDormand) translates the events both directly or in summary. It’s a fascinating framing devices that works wondrously throughout the film. There are moments where we are given a few snippets of subtitles, but for the most part, it’s an easy-to-follow narrative.

Anderson’s quirky style of filmmaking has been well served over the years with numerous films that take the cinematic form in new and compelling directions. His visual style is unique in cinema history and when he chooses to depart from tradition and make unusual films, such as his stop-motion animated features Fantastic Mr. Fox and now Isle of Dogs, it’s a genuine treat.

With fascinating visuals rendered almost entirely in plastic and cotton, the film crafts a visually stunning tableau that feels genuine and otherworldly at the same time. While stop-motion animation always looks somewhat choppy, the editing helps keep those jarring distractions to a minimum, allowing the audience to become subsumed in the moment.

The cast is stellar and features a number of Anderson’s frequent players. Their personality tics are often exaggerated in his films, but when restricted to voice performance, those caricatures become less fanciful, but just as familiar.

While Isle of Dogs shares much in common with other Anderson productions, it also manages to stand on its own as a fine example of form. Like Anderson’s other stop-motion feature, Isle of Dogs is a superb adventure filled with wonder and visual resplendence.

Oscar Prospects

Guarantees: Animated Feature
Potentials: Production Design

Review Written

December 5, 2018

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