“The heart of a dog is a bottomless thing.”
Readers. I loved Isle of Dogs so much, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a charming film brimming with dry wit and character.
Let’s start with actor and cast member Jeff Goldblum’s interview on TODAY. In the interview, he described Isle of Dogs as artisanal. Artisanal because stop-motion animation has become rare, on TV or in feature films. While all animated films take a long time to make, stop-motion is especially labor intensive. Stop-motion films have a hand-made feel because every puppet, prop and set is indeed created from scratch. Everything that moves on screen must be shot frame by frame. It is a painstaking process. An OCD dream or nightmare, depending on how you look at it. In many ways, stop-motion animation is perfect for a filmmaker like Wes Anderson who is known for his calculated aesthetic. His films are like an exquisitely curated antique shop in a hip neighborhood — you find the most unexpected treasures, ranging from ornate 17th-century wardrobes to rare record players, and they are laid out just so. In Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson takes us to the fictional city of Megasaki, Japan, where it’s 20 years in the future. Yet the setting looks solidly Showa-era—a bygone period of post-World War II Japan (Think 50’s-mid 80’s), true to his antique-shop aesthetic.
When a pandemic of dog flu sweeps through the city, Mayor Kobayashi orders all dogs of Megasaki captured and quarantined on trash island. Several months pass before Atari Kobayashi, the mayor’s ward, crash lands on the island in search of his dog Spots. A pack of five “scary alpha dogs” lead by Chief begin a journey to help Atari find his dog.
Alongside the adventure of Atari and the five junkyard dogs, we follow a group of students trying to uncover a conspiracy orchestrated by Mayor Kobayashi. He is actively plotting against his pro-dog opponent in the upcoming election. Atari’s friends have organized a pro-dog movement in an attempt to reveal Mayor Kobayashi’s schemes and liberate the dogs of trash island.
My kiddo loved the wry humor, especially the dogs. Their conversations are mundane yet hilarious, and reveal so much about each dog. The myriad of technology deployed by Mayor Kobayashi to capture Atari are fun too. There is a band of killer mecha-dogs that have a docile “pet mode.” (Remember Sony’s Aibo? Maybe that should’ve come with a “killer dog” mode.) Though let’s remember, this is a movie about dogs. I think we’re hard wired to relate deeply with dogs. There are genuinely touching moments aplenty. Stray dog Chief refuses to take orders from Atari, but he longs for a connection. It’s very rewarding when it happens. And I’m happy to report that no dog dies in the story, for those who are worried.
I hope you catch this charming film with your kiddos before it leaves theaters! Bonus: watch this short clip on how they shot stop-motion for Isle of Dogs.