Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

Silly and goofy, this stop-motion comedy explores a strange animal prejudice while also showing off some clever storytelling. The film has understandably been attacked for some racist stereotypes and on that point, it doesn't seem very thought through. Still, the meticulous nature of the animation makes for stunning spectacle and the recognizable voice cast adds humor and makes the film entertaining. The plot doesn't seem to matter that much as it is highly predictable and something seen in plenty of cartoons and children's movies. The attention to detail, something Wes Anderson is known for, is the real appeal of this film with goofy little details like this great scene of sushi making or the various shots of cats as their diabolical owners plan to rid the city of species.

The story centers around five dogs with huge stars as the voices. Chief (Bryan Cranston) is the toughest and somewhat of a leader since he has always been a stray and is more prepared for the harsh lifestyle on trash island. Cranston is one of my favorite actors since his stellar television performances and he does a great job fleshing out the wild character who grows fond of the lost boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) despite an initial wariness of all humans. Chief is definitely the central dog with a romantic interest in Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) and an introduction that includes him ripping off the ear of another dog. The film has a surprising amount of violence and grotesque images that come with Anderson's small detail. Chief is covered in fleas and has gruesome wounds all over his body from the rough life.

The second-in-command and dog that insists it is a democracy, though all the other dogs always agree with him, is Rex (Edward Norton). He has a more practical outlook on survival on trash island and dreams of having an owner again. He was house-trained and reluctant munches on the available leftover trash. His gang including Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and King (Bob Balaban) put their lives on the line to help Atari find his missing dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Duke has this recurring joke where he hears rumors about other dogs or events on the islands that I found pretty funny. The best joke comes from Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and his pug dog sidekick Oracle (Tilda Swinton) who can predict the future because she understands television though often gets distracted by silly shows. 

The human side is where the issues arise as a young foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) leads a pro-dog movement as the inventor of a cure to the various diseases the dogs carry Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) is murdered by the villainous Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) leaving behind Assitant-Scientist Yoko Ono (Yoko Ono). Atari serves as a symbolic leader despite a metal rod sticking out of his head. The adventure leads across the island and a coordinated revolt turns the tide as the film works out for a happy ending. 

Isle of Dogs has plenty to enjoy and continues Wes Anderson's quirky career with his regular castmates while the valid criticisms detract from the comedy of the film. I don't often see cartoons in the theater but cute dogs can usually draw me in and I was able to go back and watch Anderson's other film Fantastic Mr. Fox though, unfortunately, due to time constraints and less availability for this free blogging stuff, I wasn't able to review it. I liked his previous film more but this still has plenty to offer. I would like to see Anderson examine the criticism in the future and come up with an understandable response that acknowledges his myopic view and grows his ability as an auteur filmmaker. 

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