Isle of Dogs: Whatever Happened to Man’s Best Friend

This movie was… sad. Mainly because it touched on a lot of real subjects. Most important being the love between a boy and his dog. The 2018 film, directed by the one and only Wes Anderson, is a beautifully artistic epic in the dystopian future of Japan where all dogs are forced to be exiled and live on a trash island. There are a lot of layers to this film but most importantly it highlights on how perfect the symbiosis of dogs and man is.

I am a dog person. I have had many dogs through out my life sadly. Currently the love of my life is a pitchuahua (half pitbull-half chihuahua) named Belle. I don’t think I can describe how it feels to have a dog. If you have one that you love, then you already know. And if you do not have a dog, rescue one from the pound and find out for yourself. This review isn’t about dogs, if it was the article would read “they’re awesome, 11/10.” But I think that is a point I need to make about the movie. The story is all about a boy who loved his dog so much that he risks his live in order to rescue him from exile. This film is emotional. Almost every time a human or a dog is crying, I found myself getting teared up. As I said, I unfortunately have had multiple dogs. Losing one is heartbreaking. This film forces you to feel those emotions again as the characters are feeling them. These scenes are done with great care and talent. You can really feel the effort, especially considering the fact that they didn’t even have the ability to use real actors.

The animation in this movie is amazing. It’s very rare to see a stop motion film in theaters today. Isle of Dogs has a unique style where there is some sense of realism, highlighted with the way the wind hits the fur or the tears swell in the eyes. But it’s still a Wes Anderson film, so it is artistic as fuck. I love the style of this movie. It just looks visually pleasing. Wes is always known for how to make those quirky straight forward square shots, or balance the foreground and background perfectly. But this movie has an extra level. For example the movie is in 3D animation, but every television monitor shows the same scene in 2D. The fight scenes are not complex slow-mo detailed fights, but the cartoonish styled dust clouds with random limbs sticking out. It was a joy watching this movie, and I say that not even being able to understand half of the dialogue.

As it is stated in the beginning of the film, all of the humans will speak their native tongue with no subtitles. The movie takes place in Japan. I don’t speak Japanese. There are moments where the narrator explains the situation or the scene actually has an interpreter and you can understand that character, but for the most part I could not understand anything the humans were saying. All of the dogs however speak English. I could understand everything that is said from their perspective. The dog’s are the main characters so it makes sense. Personally I think it was done this way for two reasons. One was to respect the people of Japan. The other was to highlight the communication break between human and canine. I cannot speak to my dog; they cannot speak to me. But we still for some reason can understand each other. The connection you have with your pet isn’t based on logic, communication, or understanding. It is based on emotions and love. Other movies with animals, like Homeward Bound or Fox and the Hound, don’t really highlight that fact as well as this movie does. It is also a really interesting aspect because this movie doesn’t just use the dogs as dogs, but as a metaphor as well.

You can ask anyone you know and they will probably tell you that they love animals more than they love people. And it makes sense. A dog has never tried to mug me. A horse has never harassed me. A lizard has never make me feel weak or made fun of me. A cat has never….. actually cats are dicks but I think you get my point. Maybe that is why we treat our fellow-man so poorly compared to the amount of care we give animals. This movie uses the symbolism of dogs and masters to highlight how some more well off individuals treat the working class. The people who need masters. No I’m not talking about slaves! The fact that I even have to state that is ludicrous but somehow I feel it has to be said. I’m referring to the people that look for guidance. The ones that flock to religion, peace corps, military and/or just good old fashion manual labor. Their happiness is gotten from a good days work helping someone else/society. The movie even brings up how the dogs are going to be replaced by machine pets. I think that is an obvious metaphor for the working class being replaced by machines. The dogs in the film speak multiple times about how they were happier when they could be with their masters and how they hate being alone on the island. How they liked having a purpose and being taken care of. Whether you like it or not, some people just need to be taken care of. I don’t by any means think this is a political movie (although the entire B story is about a government conspiracy) but I do think there are similarities on how the dogs are treated in this dystonia world and how people are treated in society when they are down on their luck. We are given a wide variety of examples from a wide variety of dogs.

The cast of this movie is…. phenomenal. I thought about mentioning them at separate moments in the review but I think the impact of this cast is better when shown together. We have Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Bob Balaban as the main crew that helps the boy, Koyu Rankin, to find his dog, Liev Schreiber. Along the way they meet a slew of other characters, some of which are voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Fischer Stevens, F. Murray Abraham, and fucking Yoko-Ono. An adventure which is narrated by Courtney B Vance, and also kind of by Frances McDormand. The casting for this movie is immense! And that makes sense because the story itself calls for it.

This plot is, as film nerds would call it, an epic. The movie starts out telling a mythological story, thousands of years old, about a child saving all of dog kind from an evil empire ruled by cats. It was no surprise that the modern-ish version would be played out in the plot. A boy of tragic background goes on an impossible journey to save the one he loves. Along the way the makes allies as well as many enemies. There are chapters and saga, monsters and fortune tellers. Personal growth for characters who are lost. Lives are saved… But not all of them. This film is beautiful and if it was stripped away of the art, cast of dogs, Anderson style, and location, you would still have something great to watch. That is what makes a great movie, something that, at its core, is beautiful regardless of the details. In a perfectly balanced universe, every boy and girl has a good dog. And every good dog has a home.


Movie watched and review written by: Troy Smith

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