If you say “Isle Of Dogs” quickly, it sounds like you’re saying “I Love Dogs”. After someone clued me into that fact, I’ve been sure to say it slowly and enunciate, because for a variety of reasons, I don’t love dogs. Blame my bad allergies and some bad experiences as a kid, but I’ll never own one as a pet (and my son has asked, more than once). But that didn’t stop me from really enjoying Wes Anderson’s latest film, to the partial surprise of my wife.
Attribute my enjoyment of this film to two things:
1 – My long-time love of Wes ANDERSON movies.
2 – My view of movies as a means to provide opportunities for sympathy and emotional connection.
Going back twenty years since I first saw (an subsequently purchased) BOTTLE ROCKET on a VHS Tape (and then each different format since then), I’ve always really enjoyed Wes ANDERSON movies. There’s a style to it, from the color choices, to the dialogue, to the way he frames certain “reaction” shots, to the music, and to the way he takes minor absurdities and makes them realistic aspects of characters and situations, allowing you to laugh at it while deepening your understanding of the people involved.
When Anderson’s first animated film, 2009’s FANTASTIC MR FOX, was announced, I was a bit skeptical. At that point I had really enjoyed BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE, and ROYAL TENENBAUMS, but was admittedly a bit let down by THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (which I’ve come to really enjoy) and even less thrilled with THE DARJEELING LIMITED (which remains my least favorite of his films thus far). But FANTASTIC MR FOX was very entertaining and had plenty of Anderson’s signature style. It felt like a storybook fable for adults, and I’m glad he decided to not only go that route, but that he went there again.
Although I, personally, don’t have an affinity for dogs, I can understand why some people do, and so I could put myself in their shoes as I watched the film unfold. It didn’t take much to get the emotional hook, though, because Anderson did something clever with the film. By placing the film in Japan and letting the human characters speak their native language, most film-goers in the United States would be forced into understanding the humans about as well as a typical dog seems to understand humans, and about as well as the typical human understands a typical dog. Audiences further get to take the dogs’ perspectives because they’re the ones speaking English to one another, all the while retaining typical dog mannerisms in an attention to detail that Wes Anderson is great at maintaining throughout his films.
ISLE OF DOGS is certainly not a movie for kids under the age of 10, because although it’s animated, it has plenty of adult themes. There’s nothing sexual or any profanity that I can recall, but the film has quite a bit of violence and very upfront social commentary. The way the film portrays bias and bigotry and the way in which governments can target certain groups, spread false information, silence the truth, and turn the opinion of the public is very well done.
Overall, not my favorite Wes ANDERSON film, but I did enjoy it a lot more than my lack of affinity for dogs might suggest. It was very clever and mixed Anderson’s style with a Japanese “flavor” very nicely. If you love dogs, this movie is very likely to nuzzle in and endear itself to you.
My Rating: 88 out of 100