ISLE OF DOGS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban,
Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe,
Akira Ito, Greta Gerwig, Akira Takayama, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham,
Courtney B. Vance, Yojiro Noda, Fisher Stevens, Mari Natsuki, Nijiro Murakami,
Yoko Ono, Harvey Keitel, Frank Wood
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 17, 2018
“It’s gonna be a fight!”
It was nine years ago that saw director Wes Anderson expand his unique storytelling into the realm of stop-motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox, which remains high on my list of the absolute best animated films I’ve ever seen. Now, Anderson has resurfaced to that same platform with Isle of Dogs, which I’m happy to say can be added on to the aforementioned list. Only unlike Fox, which was based on a classic Roald Dahl story, this is an entirely original creation!
This also carries a distinction among animated films in that it is geared more towards an adult audience. It might be the first animated feature of it’s kind since Watership Down or The Plague Dogs in that respect. One thing is for sure...if you’re fond of both dogs and Wes Anderson’s trademark of wonderfully detailed story creations, you’re going to find so much to love here.
The setting is Japan in the not too distant future. In Megasaki City, an outbreak of a canine flu-like epidemic has led to all infected dogs to be banished to Trash Island, as ordered by Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), who demands it go into effect despite the possibility of a successful vaccine in the works. One of the infected dogs, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber) happens to be the bodyguard to 12 year old Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin), who is the ward to the mayor.
Atari soon pilots a plane and sets out to find his loyal servant, resulting in him crash landing on the island. He is then met by a band of dogs, led by a stray named Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). The other dogs in the pack are Rex (voiced by Edward Norton), Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), Boss (voiced by Bill Murray) and King (voiced by Bob Balaban). At first, Chief wants nothing to do with the young boy nor does he want to help him find his lost dog, but eventually gives in thanks to a little motivation from Nutmeg (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a female dog also on the island who appears to be immune to Trash Island’s hazardous conditions.
What has to be admired here, as is the case in all Wes Anderson films, are the unique touches he applies, most notably with how the Japanese dialect is handled. The film opens cleverly with a note to the viewer, stating that the humans in the story speak only in their native tongue, which are occasionally translated by way of a bi-lingual interpreter (courtesy of Frances McDormand), a foreign exchange student (voiced by Greta Gerwig), or electronic device, while all of the dog barks have be rendered into English.
Anderson also manages to honor Japanese culture by (in addition to having Japanese subtitles translated to English throughout the film) including a fascinating prologue. In it, we learn how dogs ended up becoming resented by the cat-loving Kobayashi dynasty in the form of a samurai tale. And we are also treated to a knockout opening title sequence featuring a taiko drum performance that is nothing short of stunning for the aural senses.
As far as the animation is concerned, this film is indeed a milestone. Anderson has proven to have a tremendous eye for the visual wonder that stop-motion animation can provide, and he applies that talent here to an even grander level with some of the most beautifully rendered animation to grace a single film. Sadly, stop-motion animation seems to be something of a dying art form...here’s hoping Anderson can keep the format going for as long as possible.
Isle of Dogs is already very high on my list of the very best films of 2018. It’s also one of Wes Anderson’s best accomplishments to date and one of the greatest animated films I’ve ever experienced. He’s two for two in the genre now, and I hope he keeps making more such original creations in the future.
As much as I was hoping for a 4K Ultra HD release, this Blu-ray release from Fox is nevertheless stunning in every sense of the word! The immense color pallette on display here will unquestionably knock your socks off, as will the overall detail of the picture, right down to fur of each of the canine characters. The film offers visual joy in every single frame, and this presentation enhances that aspect beautifully. It really is the epitome of beautiful art coming to life before your eyes!
Wes Anderson always has something special going on with the sound quality in his films, whether it be music choices or occasional bits of action. This film carries those exact qualities, which the DTS HD mix takes advantage of to full effect. The opening taiko drum number, which plays quite a few times during the film, rumbles through the channels in a most mesmerizing way. The music score courtesy of Alexandre Desplat is also beautifully heard, while dialogue delivery is succinctly clear and terrifically handled!
Included on this Fox Blu-ray is a collection of brief featurettes, including “The Animators”, “Cast Interviews”, “Puppets", “An Ode to Dogs”, “Megasaki City and Trash Island" and “Weather and Elements”. Also featured is an Image Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer.
Isle of Dogs is equal parts strange and beautiful, and altogether accompanied by some of the most amazingly realized and detailed animation to ever be seen (as well as a massively remarkable cast of voice talent). With so many movies these days are ridden of originality, a film like this and a director like Wes Anderson are sorely needed. I can’t recommend this film more strongly!