‘Isle of Dogs’ charms its way into viewers’ hearts with simplistic story and stunning sights

Chris Duncan

Contrary to what others might say, “Isle of Dogs” is Wes Anderson at his best — featuring quirky humor, an engaging story, fantastic characters and so much more.

This isn’t Anderson’s first foray into stop-motion animation, and it shows. His debut in the art style, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was carried by its story but lacked the pizzazz viewers have come to expect from Anderson. With “Isle of Dogs,” Anderson has built his own world, bringing along the snarky jokes and emotional undertones that have made his films so compelling.

The movie’s premise is simple — dogs are man’s best friend, but what happens when they become a threat? In the case of “Isle of Dogs,” the threat is something Anderson and his collaborators have dubbed “canine flu,” and in Megasaki, Japan, the locals react by exiling all dogs to an offshore island of trash. In the beginning of the movie, there’s a certain level of excitement with the train of events that pushes Megasaki to make this decision. But as the harsh reality of the dogs’ destinies sets in, it’s apparent “Isle of Dogs” is a truly a tale of survival and the struggle for normality.

With Anderson as the island’s architect, a pack of five emerges as the story’s main characters. Every single detail of the dogs, from matted fur to teeth and battle scars, matches their personalities. Hinting at their backstories, each dog dons the remnants of a previous life — Boss (Bill Murray), a former mascot for the Megasaki youth baseball team, still wears pinstripes in honor of his previous owners.

Building in the Japanese language and imagery, Anderson’s color palette is fully utilized. Whether it’s popping reds, subtle browns or a comforting yellow, every element of Megasaki and the Isle of Dogs feels in place. Additionally, Anderson forgoes subtitles, incorporating characters and machines to provide translations when necessary. When he chooses not to translate, viewers are forced to make do with what they have and recognize the beauty of the Japanese language.

“Isle of Dogs” runs at about 100 minutes, but similarly to several of his other films, Anderson leaves much of the mystery of certain characters and outcomes on the table. In particular, former show dog Nutmeg’s (Scarlett Johansson) background and future are uncertain — she seems a bit ignored in the grand scheme of things. Although viewers might desire more screen time with several characters, it’s apparent Anderson dodges extensive history lessons to force the viewer to face the harsh reality of the animals’ current existences.

As the film picks up and comes spiraling toward its dramatic edge-of-your-seat conclusion, it’s easy to connect the film to current world events. Irrational fears and issues with immigration, the danger of propaganda and corrupt governments and the importance of scientific exploration are just a few of the messages in the film.

But in reality, “Isle of Dogs” is so much simpler than that.

When all is said and done, “Isle of Dogs” doesn’t attempt to be a transcendent experience, and it doesn’t need to. On its own, the film is a compelling story of companionship and love, one that keeps its audience hooked until the end. Paired with Anderson’s propensity for memorable characters, world building and heartfelt moments, it’s hard not to consider “Isle of Dogs” a victory.

  • “Isle of Dogs”
  • Running Time: 101 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Score: 4 puppers out of 5