Wes Anderson’s newest stop-motion animated film, Isle of Dogs, follows in the pawprints of his 2009 masterpiece Fantastic Mr. Fox taking his audience to Japan 20 years in the future. The cat-loving mayor of Megasaki City spreads fear about a viciously contagious canine disease through a propaganda campaign culminating in the exile of all dogs to Trash Island. A ragtag group of self-proclaimed alpha dogs fights off other wild packs to survive on garbage and table scraps. When they stumble across the plane crash of a wounded young boy named Atari, they decide to accompany him on his secret mission to rescue his loyal dog Spots and hopefully reinstate dogs’ status as man’s best friend.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more creative and original film. Drawing inspiration from a variety of beloved classics like Rankin-Bass Christmas Animations (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, etc.) and artistic classics like Citizen Kane and Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films, Isle of Dogs presents a wealth of cultural clout incorporated in the rich artistic motifs of Japanese culture and history.
Combining these elements with Anderson’s signature dry wit, star-studded casting, meticulous attention to detail, and surgically precise heart-string pulls you’ll find a whimsical and immersive world in which this almost mythical epic adventure takes place. Compared to Anderson’s previous films, this story moves a little slower and includes less-relatable characters but, in my opinion, outshines any other in its artistry and originality. I’d give it an A- for artistic and entertainment value.
The PG-13 rating comes mostly from violence that includes blood but is usually brief and cartoonish. It may be one step above something like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner in intensity. Aside from 2 or 3 uses of the B-word (which is strangely appropriate given that it is only used in reference to female dog characters) the language is very clean. Assuming that the artistry and slower pace might detract from the entertainment value for younger audiences, 13+ would be an appropriate audience age despite the lack of much objectionable content.
Themes of identity, loyalty, and finding belonging in a misfit family are typical of Anderson’s films and Isle of Dogs proves no exception to the rule. The film introduces various Good-Samaritan-like characters who are given opportunities to “do good to them that hate [them].” Chief, the principal canine voiced by Bryan Cranston, stubbornly denies the value of relationships between dogs and humans citing his past as a mistreated stray. Given the chance to potentially save all dogs from almost certain annihilation and bridge the gap between themselves and the humans, he discovers the values of friendship, family, and charity. He also expresses great humility in recognizing his weaknesses as a wild animal with “natural man” tendencies while remarking, “I don’t know why I bite.”
Charity towards (and patience with) oneself is another important value highlighted throughout the story. The importance of honor in the Japanese culture uniquely communicates our duty to admit when we are wrong and extend love and charity to others despite our differences. In the real-world context of refugee and immigration crises, this story provides an example of how avoiding rumors or gossip and extending genuine charity towards people of different races and cultures will lift and empower all involved. The implicit title, “I Love Dogs,” appropriately conveys this most important message of the film.