Isle of Dogs
North American Premiere, SXSW – Paramount Theatre, March 17, 2018
Review by Stacey Lovett
Following in the level of the full-length stop-animation splendor he brought in 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson returns with an inherently quirky visual masterpiece of a boy’s odyssey to find his lost dog in Isle of Dogs.
The canine flu has been purposefully led to overtake the dog population in Japan’s (fictional futuristic) Megasaki City thus leading the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi to banish them all to Trash Island to ultimately meet their demise. A young boy, Atari, initiates a self-led mission to save his best friend with his efforts backed only by a few rogue followers keen to see the truth in the cause.
It’s filled with dark allegories – many socio-political – and draws heavily on Antonio de Saint-Exupéry-esque elements of a child’s view of an adult world and how that visualization, in turn, should be translated into more positive social realization and resulting change. The film critiques many aspects of the trajectory of today’s world using the universal theme of a dog’s loyalty and devotion and further relays this understanding with the canine personification of the characters. The profundity of the story’s message is layered and left to comprehension as deep as the viewer chooses to seek – it can merely serve as a visually satisfying box office animated feature or parable of the attempted annihilation of man’s best friend mirroring society’s self-destructive behavior in its own divisions, with the corrupt often leading the blind. Beyond the philosophical views, the film is beautifully constructed with immense attention to detail – from individual hairs blowing in the wind to fleas crawling through the fur of the diseased dogs –it is animation capturing the careful details of film and life brought out in the visuals. The settings are built to convey certain feelings – Trash Island is thoughtfully put together piecing together each individual component with strong regards to color and symmetry as important visual components and each setting evokes the feeling of the situation at hand be it stark desolation or menacing power. The story follows Anderson’s propensity for the heist components in his films with Atari teaming up with the misfit pack of pooches to embark on his personal mission to find his best friend and to ultimately free the dogs from their unjust fate. The dogs themselves are even personified, not just in their ability to speak but in their features, gestures, and subject matter. Using a subject matter that is universally seen as inherently good, Anderson creates a societal caricature to make a statement that can be more widely interpreted and done so through an accepted medium. He opens the conversation of the paradoxical side of politics often seen with a blind eye to the truth whether by narrowed perception or debased guidance and speaks to the masses of seeing the bigger picture. Isle ultimately questions who we are, who we want to be, and who we honor.
Following the SXSW premiere, Anderson and a handful of the cast who were involved in the film joined Robert Rodriguez onstage for a moderated q&a on the film. Bill Murray (voice of Boss), Jeff Goldblum (voice of Duke), Kunichi Nomura (writer & voice of Mayor Kobayashi), Bob Balaban (voice of King) and Randall Poster (music supervisor) all spoke to the testament of the work of this collaborative to achieve the ultimate vision through the trust imparted upon them, and as this screening closed the festival the audience left without question on one aspect – that the collaborative effort put in, both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly shone through and the project’s passion was present that night on stage.