Film Review: Isle of Dogs

With Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson has created another film I wouldn’t change a frame of. It is meticulously crafted, emotionally poignant and takes you on an adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

When all of the dogs of Megasaki City are diagnosed as threats to the people and city by Mayor Kobayashi, they are all left to fend for themselves on Trash Island. A group of dogs, Chief, Rex, King, Boss, and Duke have formed a pack to better their chance for survival, but when a boy, Atari, crashes on the island in search of his dog, the pack gets involved in something even bigger than any of them could have imagined. What follows is a trek across the island, encounters with countless interesting characters, conspiracies full of political intrigue and a number of scrums to go along with many surprises.

I am a Wes Anderson acolyte at heart, so me falling for Isle of Dogs should be no surprise, but Anderson really has crafted a masterful film here. The animation by Anderson and his team is nothing short of extraordinary. Full of endless details, a number of amazingly well crafted characters, beautiful cinematography, incredible sets and production design, and every frame is meticulously shot. Anderson’s second stop-motion feature, you can feel the craft is even stronger this time out and his control of vision is unmatched. Anderson is one of our great directors and he shows no signs of losing that stature.

The film isn’t just a technical marvel, it is also a film with a great story, great characters and tons of great bits and visuals throughout. Everytime a scrum breaks out in a cloud of dust I was cackling. There are more than a handful of mini-sequences that are their own little stories within the film and are shot in unique ways that only animation can provide. The script lays out a number of jokes that build upon one another, has Anderson’s brilliant sense of humor and balances its tone perfectly. The film jumps through time with ease, utilizing flashbacks wonderfully, and the editing and flow of the film is impeccable. There are so many scenes or characters I feel like are my favorite bits when thinking back on the film and I can only imagine it is going to grow in appreciation with every rewatch.

The cast for the film is littered with veterans of Anderson’s previous works, but Bryan Cranston is a new name brought to the fold that gets to be rather front and center. Playing the pack’s leader, Chief, the film is ultimately about his growth and journey, and Cranston brings the strength, pathos and nuance the role calls for. Liev Schreiber is also excellent as Spots, a character that we don’t get to know a lot about, but I think will shine in repeat viewings. Jeff Goldblum steals the show with all of his rumors, Edward Norton has an excellent back and forth with Cranston, Greta Gerwig is a firecracker at the center of the human conspiracy, while Tilda Swinton’s Oracle might be my favorite character/bit in the film.

I could go on and on about Isle of Dogs, but, mostly, I just want to see it again. There are endless details to be discovered in this film, but I was also moved and emotionally invested in this rag-tag group of dogs and their journey. The film has more on its mind than just adventure too, taking shots at politics, discrimination and fascism, the film is still a fantasy to be enjoyed and entertains. Wes Anderson has made another classic, that should live right along his great works, of which there are many.

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