Over the years, Wes Anderson has been making idiosyncratic and precise movies that have stood out for their originality. It’s obvious when you see a Wes Anderson movie, because nothing else looks or feels like a Wes Anderson movie.
His latest endeavor, currently playing at the Nickelodeon Theatre, “Isle of Dogs,” has all of his famous trademarks, while also proving he still has a lot to offer audiences. It’s the second fully stop-motion animated movie that Anderson has directed, and it looks like he took massive amounts of care in order to make this assembled world look as real as possible. The set designers and animators have done a truly outstanding job creating characters that can each show any form of humor, sadness, anger and hope effortlessly.
“Isle of Dogs” takes place in a near-future version of Japan where the overpopulated dogs have contracted a flu virus. The corrupt mayor of Megasaki City, or Anderson’s crazy version of a dystopian Tokyo, outlaws and banishes all dogs to the nearby Trash Island just off the coast. Six months later, when a group of dogs find a young boy who has crashed a plane on the island in search of his captured dog, they decide to help him on his quest. Unfortunately for them, due to a connection with the boy, the mayor goes to great lengths to try and get him back.
Since the movie takes place in Japan, all the humans speak Japanese, but Anderson decided to not use subtitles. Unless you know an English-speaking foreign exchange student or a few interpreters, the only way you can tell what anyone is saying is by context or by the way the characters physically act out their scenes. A lot of the credit for this, again, goes to the animators, but it also gives Anderson the chance to harken back to the silent film era when instead of straight dialogue, audiences relied on proficient storytelling to understand what was going on. But don’t worry too much — all the dogs speak English.
The all-star voice cast is too huge to list individually, but everyone is a perfect vessel for Anderson's signature deadpan style. Anderson’s usual collaborators, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are all killer, but the dynamic between an alpha dog voiced by Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin, who voices the young boy Atari, really adds the emotional weight that keeps you rooting for these inanimate objects on screen.
For someone who has never had a dog as a pet, “Isle of Dogs” made me want to go adopt a puppy as soon as the credits rolled. Anderson does a terrific job delving into how much people connect with their pets, but also what people are willing to believe when they think their personal safety is threatened. Taking all dogs to a remote island made of garbage to spend the rest of their days may not seem like a realistic thing we would do to man’s best friend, but humans have done much worse things to their own kind in the past.
I would give “Isle of Dogs” a grade of an A minus. With this movie, Anderson further cements his reputation as one of the most unique filmmakers working in the industry today. He will almost always have the creative freedom to do whatever kind of movie he wants, so it will be exciting to see where he goes from here. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Anderson has already proven his skills enough that most fans will follow him wherever he goes, the way a dog goes after a stick in a game of fetch.