‘Isle of Dogs’ is a gorgeous journey through artificial Japan

Wes Anderson delivers another distinctly packaged bundle of joy as the film balances fresh execution of his familiar themes with wondrous animation and enchanting world-building.

Image By: Photo Courtesy of IMDB

Isle of Dogs” has all of the classic Wes Anderson signature traits: an all-star voice cast at the top of their game, an eclectic mix of pre-existing songs with an idiosyncratic score, intensely detailed shots and a story that is equal parts enduring and off-kilter. Some of these features pay off more than others, but for the most part, the film is sweet, funny and immersive beyond compare. Wes Anderson delivers another distinctly packaged bundle of joy as “Isle of Dogs” balances fresh execution of his familiar themes with wondrous animation and enchanting world-building.

The plot finds five dogs (voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban) helping a boy (voiced by Koyu Rankin) find his beloved Spots on a trash island where every dog was quarantined due to the fear-mongering government that rules Megasaki.

The story is reliant on exposition and flashbacks to convince the audience of its rationale and authenticity, but Anderson is skilled in pacing and balancing the present against the past. After this top-notch establishing of a new world, Anderson finds equally engaging relationships and developments between most of the characters. It’s just as much fun to ask “what happened?” in addition to “what’s happening?”

Anderson explores themes like family and duty with characters that have a lot to say about those topics: dogs and children. Moment-to-moment, snappy and witty dialogue gives the audience a trail of breadcrumbs to follow into the next scene. Even if a scene doesn’t add anything new to the story, it fleshes out the central characters and gives the audience humans something to smile about, though some characters aren’t as detailed as others.

Edward Norton’s Rex, for example, functions well as a quasi-leader for his ragtag friends, but midway through the film, there’s a disappointing lack of action for Norton, Goldblum, Murray and Balaban. So much care was taken in creating their central identities and appearances in the first act — Anderson properly establishes each dog. The further the film goes, the more disappointed I was to see all their clever dialogue exchanges trail off into fun moments, rather than essential ones.

The dialogue is spoken through whimsically animated puppets and the level of detail is some of the best eye candy of the year: every tuft of fur that moves in the wind and every cotton ball explosion from a fight looks terrific. Larger movements such as walking and talking also look and feel very authentic, like the scene where a group of scientists tests chemicals in an attempt to cure the dog flu that has gripped the canine population. The animators balance the characters’ natural movement against the idiosyncratic symmetry in Tristan Oliver’s cinematography.

The film’s Japanese backdrop is not fully authentic to Japan, but rather authentic to Anderson’s painstakingly created world. As a result, it is loved as a product of appreciation to Japan rather than a product of authenticity. Kaoru Watanabe composed distinctly Japanese taiko drumming pieces that are a highlight inside a mostly Western sonic palette, but every piece of music works well as a function inside of Anderson’s world.

Additionally, it was slightly discouraging to see Greta Gerwig’s Tracy take a more central role. While Gerwig’s voice work is just as well done as everyone else’s, Anderson builds up his unique version of Japan just to alienate the Japanese citizens from the audience by focusing on a white American character. Gerwig’s English is essential to understanding the humans’ actions, but her character’s boldness almost veers into white savior territory.

Once again, however, the world created by Anderson makes a point to establish Megasaki as a work of fiction, as he told Entertainment Weekly before the film’s release. While some ideas in the film may be problematic, the overall product has a lot to love. Quality voice acting, beautiful animation and an endearing story are just some of the wonderful features of “Isle of Dogs,” a worthy addition to Anderson’s filmography.

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