Isle of Dogs - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Isle of Dogs


Directed by Wes Anderson

Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura

Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, F. Murray Abraham


In the first of two dystopic releases this week, Wes Anderson’s animated tale, “Isle of Dogs” expands to Phoenix. The story is set in a near future where dogs have become ill with a ‘canine flu’ and are quarantined to a garbage island off the coast of Megasaki City. In an attempt to retrieve his lost dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), Atari Kobayashi searches the island garbage dump, enlisting the aid of other abandoned dogs.

The story by Mr. Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, screenplay by Mr. Anderson is infused with heart, soul, honor and is a strong tip of the hat to famed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. The top-notch voice cast includes Bryan Cranston as Chief, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg and Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker.

The film is so much a product of the techniques used to create the film. It is also a testament of the films that were presented at SXSW, where “Isle of Dogs” had its North American premiere to close the 25th annual fest. “Isle of Dogs” is very much about passion, and it can be seen in every animated frame across its 101 – minute run time. The use of color was extremely limited, conveying the sense of loss. There are a few scenes on the garbage island that were full of color. During the Q & A that followed the screening, Mr. Anderson said that “the color scheme was ‘garbage’,” implying a monochromatic look.

The emotion and humor that permeates every character is only enhanced by the look and feel of their environment. Who wouldn’t love to have a dog who was voiced by Bryan Cranston, or a dog who could make you laugh with Bill Murray’s voice? Each actor was chosen for not only their distinctive voices, but their inflections and their emotions. More importantly is our guide, voiced by Courtney B. Vance. His voice over is welcomed and never intrusive as the story unfolds, easing us through the humor and the more difficult times. Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham and Yoko Ono also make cameo voice appearances.

All of these layers build a story that is more than being an adventure about “a boy and his dog.” Mr. Anderson’s collaboration with Kunichi Nomura ensures that traditional Japanese heritage and culture are respected and honored. There are elements in the story which are predictable, something that has not been a part of his prior films. The story uses several flashbacks to convey pertinent information, and though it is an Achilles Heel, it is a necessary element. My initial reaction to its inclusion was not positive, but on a second viewing, it strengthens the story.

Music has long been a staple of Mr. Anderson’s films, more specifically pop music. An extended version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s song “I Won’t Hurt You” is heard in the film. Its use explores the main themes of the story. Alexandre Desplat’s use of Taiko Drums is symbolic of the courage and adventurous spirit of the film, creating a lush, rhythmic score.

“Isle of Dogs” is another winner in Mr. Anderson’s already strong catalog of films. The story is very adult-oriented, but it’s PG-13 rating should not put families with older kids out. There are many life lessons to be learned and enjoyed.

3.8 out of 4 stars