Reel Opinions


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs is likely to be the boldest and most polarizing animated film we are likely to get this year.  Yes, the movie is a visual feast with its gorgeous and fluid stop motion art style.  And like a lot of Anderson's films, the deadpan humor and wordplay is quite strong.  But, the movie also has a lot on its mind, including a political undercurrent that will resonate with adult audiences.

In fact, the movie seems to be tailored almost exclusively for adult audiences.  Despite the cast of talking dogs, the film contains a lot of Anderson's trademark dark humor, such as an early scene where a dog gets part of his ear bitten off in a fight.  It also has his trademark whimsy and light tone, which, combined with the stop motion animation, gives the film an unearthly and almost dream-like quality.  Anderson and his team of co-writers (which include Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) have crafted a simple but emotional story that is filled with hard truths, honest sentiments, and an overall sense of wonder that we seldom get in movies.  It's the kind of movie where the imaginative visuals and the world it's set in draw you in, and then you find yourself captivated by not just the look, but also the tone and the dialogue.  This is a movie that sucks you in little by little, until you are completely under its spell.

Set 20 years in the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, the story kicks off when the city's cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by screenwriter Kunichi Nomura) is forced to take action when a disease known as "dog flu" sweeps across the canine population, and threatens the human residents.  Using fear mongering, he whips the citizens up into a frenzy, and talks them into a plan to gather up all dogs and transport them to far-off Trash Island, a toxic wasteland of garbage and filth where the dogs are forced to fight one another over scraps of moldy food to survive, and basically are sentenced to slowly waste away and die until starvation or their disease consumes them.  There are scientists who are working diligently on a cure for the disease, but they are constantly stopped in their progress by Kobayashi and his shady followers, who want the people to rally behind the Mayor and his cause.

The first dog to be sentenced to the island is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who just happens to be the beloved companion of the Mayor's orphaned ward, the 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin).  Wanting to stay by his faithful dog's side, the boy constructs a crude plane and flies to the island, where he promptly crash lands and finds himself at the mercy of a pack of once-domesticated dogs who are sympathetic and want to help Atari.  The pack of helpful dogs include the leader Rex (Edward Norton), along with former Baseball mascot dog Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).  Also along for the journey is a stray dog named Chief (Bryan Cranston), who at first wants nothing to do with the child.  In fact, his first instinct when he sees the boy crash is to eat him.  Unlike the other dogs, Chief has never been one for human companionship.  He did have an adopted human family for a short while, but it did not end well for Chief, so he has survived mostly on his own.  But through Atari and his search for Spots, Chief slowly learns the value of depending on others and the special relationship between a boy and his dog.

While the simple plot that celebrates the love between humans and canines makes up the main heart of the story, it is also used as a launching point for a variety of subplots which cover a wide range of themes, such as political corruption and using fear to rally voters, a minority rising up and standing against the establishment, and even a touch of satire on technology when robot dogs are created in order to replace the flesh and blood ones that have been discarded.  The movie never seems overly busy, despite its tackling of multiple themes, and its large cast of characters.  In fact, this is the rare instance where I actually kind of wished the film was longer, as I wanted to know more about some of these characters.  Regardless, for the film's 100 minutes, I sat spellbound by the world that the artists have created using puppets and models.  There is a lot of detail in the settings and in the dialogue that explains the film's world.  Some critics have complained that there is too much detail.  But to me, the film's light and fairly jovial tone made everything go down quite easily, and I never felt like I was being bombarded with information.

Isle of Dogs is a movie that manages to be sophisticated and playful at the same time.  It's explained early on that all the humans in the film will speak in Japanese, with subtitles or radio announcers translating what they are saying.  Meanwhile, the dogs' "barks" have been translated into English for the sake of the audience.  It's a clever touch, and Anderson manages to make it work.  The film is also lifted up by its beautiful music score by Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water), who uses Japanese-infused music and instruments like taiko drums, while also mixing gentle pop tunes when appropriate.  I also loved some of the film's funny visual touches, like whenever the dogs get into a fight, they suddenly turn into a cartoon-style cloud of smoke and dust which look like cotton balls.  There is a comic sensibility on display that keeps the film grounded in a certain kind of innocence, while never downplaying some of the more mature themes that the film does tackle.  Parents be advised, the film is PG-13, and is probably not appropriate for young children, despite the cast made up of talking dogs.

Not only is Isle of Dogs visually captivating, but it is also enriching and rewarding.  It's seldom that we get an animated feature with a love for dialogue, but perhaps it's not surprising here, since Anderson has always been a master at wordplay.  This is a great little film, worthy of a repeat viewing not just to catch all the visual touches and gags that you missed, but to also appreciate the work that went into what these puppets and model figures are saying.

0 comments

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home

09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005
11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006
09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007
02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007
03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007
04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007
07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007
08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007
10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008
01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008
03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008
05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008
06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008
08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008
09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008
10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008
11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008
12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009
01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009
02/01/2009 - 03/01/2009
03/01/2009 - 04/01/2009
04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009
05/01/2009 - 06/01/2009
06/01/2009 - 07/01/2009
07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009
08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009
09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009
10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009
11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009
12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010
01/01/2010 - 02/01/2010
02/01/2010 - 03/01/2010
03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010
04/01/2010 - 05/01/2010
05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010
06/01/2010 - 07/01/2010
07/01/2010 - 08/01/2010
08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010
09/01/2010 - 10/01/2010
10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010
11/01/2010 - 12/01/2010
12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011
01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011
02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011
03/01/2011 - 04/01/2011
04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011
05/01/2011 - 06/01/2011
06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011
07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011
08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011
09/01/2011 - 10/01/2011
10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011
11/01/2011 - 12/01/2011
12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012
01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012
02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012
03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012
04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012
05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012
06/01/2012 - 07/01/2012
07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012
08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012
09/01/2012 - 10/01/2012
10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012
11/01/2012 - 12/01/2012
12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013
01/01/2013 - 02/01/2013
02/01/2013 - 03/01/2013
03/01/2013 - 04/01/2013
04/01/2013 - 05/01/2013
05/01/2013 - 06/01/2013
06/01/2013 - 07/01/2013
07/01/2013 - 08/01/2013
08/01/2013 - 09/01/2013
09/01/2013 - 10/01/2013
10/01/2013 - 11/01/2013
11/01/2013 - 12/01/2013
12/01/2013 - 01/01/2014
01/01/2014 - 02/01/2014
02/01/2014 - 03/01/2014
03/01/2014 - 04/01/2014
04/01/2014 - 05/01/2014
05/01/2014 - 06/01/2014
06/01/2014 - 07/01/2014
07/01/2014 - 08/01/2014
08/01/2014 - 09/01/2014
09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014
10/01/2014 - 11/01/2014
11/01/2014 - 12/01/2014
12/01/2014 - 01/01/2015
01/01/2015 - 02/01/2015
02/01/2015 - 03/01/2015
03/01/2015 - 04/01/2015
04/01/2015 - 05/01/2015
05/01/2015 - 06/01/2015
06/01/2015 - 07/01/2015
07/01/2015 - 08/01/2015
08/01/2015 - 09/01/2015
09/01/2015 - 10/01/2015
10/01/2015 - 11/01/2015
11/01/2015 - 12/01/2015
12/01/2015 - 01/01/2016
01/01/2016 - 02/01/2016
02/01/2016 - 03/01/2016
03/01/2016 - 04/01/2016
04/01/2016 - 05/01/2016
05/01/2016 - 06/01/2016
06/01/2016 - 07/01/2016
07/01/2016 - 08/01/2016
08/01/2016 - 09/01/2016
09/01/2016 - 10/01/2016
10/01/2016 - 11/01/2016
11/01/2016 - 12/01/2016
12/01/2016 - 01/01/2017
01/01/2017 - 02/01/2017
02/01/2017 - 03/01/2017
03/01/2017 - 04/01/2017
04/01/2017 - 05/01/2017
05/01/2017 - 06/01/2017
06/01/2017 - 07/01/2017
07/01/2017 - 08/01/2017
08/01/2017 - 09/01/2017
09/01/2017 - 10/01/2017
10/01/2017 - 11/01/2017
11/01/2017 - 12/01/2017
12/01/2017 - 01/01/2018
01/01/2018 - 02/01/2018
02/01/2018 - 03/01/2018
03/01/2018 - 04/01/2018
04/01/2018 - 05/01/2018

Powered by Blogger