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Review: Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs was released on March 23, 2018.
Photo by Indian Paintbrush
Isle of Dogs was released on March 23, 2018.

From the visionary director behind films like “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Wes Anderson brings his newest animated film “Isle of Dogs.” With an amazing stop-motion art style and a star-studded cast of actors like Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig and Ed Norton, is “Isle of Dogs” a surefire Oscar contender? Or is it a step back for Anderson?

Luckily, “Isle of Dogs” continues the director’s hot streak with great acting and unparallelled attention-to-detail.

After the threat of “dog flu” causes the mayor of a Japanese town to banish all dogs to an island, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), a young boy and distant relative of the mayor, travels across the isle to retrieve his pet. Along the way, Atari meets dozens of different dogs, all speaking English (it’s explained in the movie, don’t worry). As the movie unfolds, we learn about a full-blown conspiracy involving the exile and the city’s mayor, all being uncovered by an American foreign-exchange student (Greta Gerwig).

Bryan Cranston as Chief, the leader of the dogs, absolutely knocked it out of the park with his portrayal as the tough guy with a heart of gold. The relationship between Chief and Atari transcends language, and it makes the audience truly care to see Atari reunited with his dog.

In true Wes Anderson fashion, the film is very, very enjoyable to look at. From his trademark symmetrical shots to the mix of stop-motion, animation and puppetry, the film is beautiful. It’s clear that hours and hours went into each frame. Alexandre Desplat (Oscar-winning composer of “The Shape of Water” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” among countless others) also provides an amazing, somber soundtrack that heightens the themes in a way that’s isn’t overly pandering or disregarding Japanese culture.

Unfortunately, also in true Wes Anderson fashion, a lot of his typical shortcomings worm their way into this film. Bryan Cranston’s character finds a love interest (played by Scarlett Johansson) who serves almost no purpose other than to make the dogs seem more like humans. The dialogue ranges from great to why?????? (but this problem could be a product of his usual style of writing mixed with the voice actors), and the exposition at the beginning of the film was pretty rough. If anything bothers you about previous Anderson films, don’t be surprised if it finds a way to bother you in “Isle of Dogs.”

Although many of the Anderson tropes find their way into the film, “Isle of Dogs” is still unlike anything he’s done before. The usual eye-popping primary colors that dominate films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” are discarded in favor of subdued, darker tones. Most of his films are grounded in some sort of reality, (or in “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”’s case, is based on a children’s book) but just looking at the trailer shows this is one of Wes Anderson’s most creative and “out there” projects yet.

“Isle of Dogs” at its heart is a weird, beautiful story about a boy and his dog. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

8/10

About the Contributor
Grant Baker
Grant Baker, The Rider Editor-in-Chief
I'm Grant Baker and I write for this website. I love serving God, watching football and listening to 2000s southern hip hop. Maybe not all of those at the same time. I don't know. Okay you know how hard it is to write one of these things? Pretty hard.
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