Heart and Humor: “Isle of Dogs” Review

Zach Steensma—Staff Writer

Wes Anderson is one of those directors whose artistic presence is so unique that his movies are practically their own self-contained genre.

Longtime fans and casual moviegoers alike immediately recognize Anderson’s films by their distinct and deliberate narrative structure and visual style, each one meticulously crafted with a nearly unrivaled amount of attention to detail.

While Isle of Dogs is certainly no exception to these standards, it still manages to stand out among the rest with a delightfully ridiculous premise and unrestrained level of silliness:

In a retro-futuristic version of Japan, every dog has been quarantined (via trans-oceanic cable car) to a vast island of trash. This quarantine occurs by decree of the mayor following a major disease outbreak among the canines of the city.

On the island, former pets Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) form a pack. The canines fight for their survival and express the longing to return to their former domestic lives. Alongside them stands Chief (Bryan Cranston), a stray who does not share the sentimentality of the other dogs.

The pack is faced with a challenge when a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) arrives on the island in search of his deported dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). A reluctant Chief agrees to join the rest of the pack in aiding Atari on his quest to find his beloved pet.
The film incorporates Japanese and Western influences; the movie is a blend of Japanese and English, with minimal translation between the two except at specific, crucial points in the story.

Painstakingly filmed with stop motion by animation studio Indian Paintbrush, the animators of Isle of Dogs bring this strange dystopian landscape to life in a way no other production company ever could. With striking textures, mellow lighting and warm colors, every moment of the film, from the suspenseful to the sentimental, is elevated to a level of aesthetic and tonal balance that captivates audiences, allowing them to suspend disbelief without sacrificing the intended emotional effect carried by each mood.

But even the film’s most heartfelt moments are often undercut with visual gags and awkward humor, helping to maintain a consistent pace that balances the story’s political overtones and occasional dark themes with enough laughs and tears to keep children and adults alike engaged in the experience.

In this way, Wes Anderson once again succeeds in delivering exactly what audiences have come to expect from him, especially in his flawless transition between the sad and the delightful.

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