Isle of Dogs is probably one of director Wes Anderson's weirdest movies, but a great voice cast, a fantastic animation style, and a fun little story make this production hugely enjoyable to watch.
Director: Wes Anderson
Summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy's odyssey in search of his lost dog.
It says a lot that Isle of Dogs is probably one of the weirder entries in the Wes Anderson filmography, but that doesn't make it any less true.
We spend the movie following a pack of dogs that have been excommunicated to an island of trash — they are sick and no one wants to look for a cure. They spend their days fighting over trash until a little pilot name Watari arrives looking for his old dog. From there things go a bit off the rails — but in a good way. The dogs speak in English while we can't understand Watari, as he speaks in his native Japanese. This is supposed to really hammer home the language barrier between the animals and the humans — but that falls a bit flat later on in the movie.
Fans of stop-motion animation are going to find a lot to like here. The dogs are all different breeds, so it's easy to tell which is which, and they all have unique personalities. The human characters also manage to show a striking amount of emotion with the insane detail put into each of their faces. The voice cast is fantastic across the board, but it's Bryan Cranston as Chief who walks away with the entire movie. His stray-with-a-heart-of-gold dog has the clearest character journey as he goes from resenting everything Watari stands for to protecting him with his life.
This isn't to say it's a perfect movie. There are two humans that speak English that seem to be there only to translate important story details. They both are a little pointless, when that could have easily been cured with subtitles as needed. There is also a bit of a pacing issue in that the end of the second act and going into the third can feel a little long. It becomes even more apparent once the movie moves to the secondary plot.
Finally, there is the argument of Orientalism. This is a very good breakdown of that. Anderson doesn't appear to have any bad intentions with Isle of Dogs, but that doesn't stop everything from feeling a bit surreal as we watch the production go by. The movie doesn't feel like it's making fun of Japanese culture or judging it particularly harshly, but it does feel like Japanese culture as seen through the eyes of people who have never lived in it. Ignorance is still ignorance, regardless of intentions, and this could easily be a deal breaker for people when it comes to this movie. Whether or not it should be is up to the viewer, but the fact that the conversation is happening is important to mention.
Overall, Isle of Dogs makes a few missteps along the way, but for fans of Anderson's aesthetic and for those looking for a quirky little movie about dogs, it absolutely delivers.