Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

If you love Wes Anderson, Yousle-of Isle of Dogs*. If not, you’ll probably be entertained on a superficial level by this cute, frivolous film.

*Say “Isle of Dogs” really fast and you’ll get the joke. 

A Wes Anderson Film“. If you’ve seen one, hearing that immediately conjurs up an expectation: a bizarre, witty film that is just close enough to reality to make the absurdity stand out in stark relief. Wes Anderson seems like the type of person who would spend days meticulously setting up dominos just so they look like unplanned chaos when they fall. It’s that obsessively-curated artificial-haphazardness (suffused with slick banter) that has created a devoted following for the film-maker. If that’s you: congratulations! Isle of Dogs is more of the same.

For me, I’d put Isle of Dogs as my new definition for “mildly entertained”.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson
The mission is a man(‘s best friend).

Megasaki City has a dog problem. The canine population has contracted “Snout Fever”, and the disease risks jumping hosts to people. Mayor Kobayashi has promised a solution: exile the pups to trash island, where they can be quarantined. But there is more to the outbreak than meets the eye, and Kobayashi has an animosity towards dogs that goes back generations. Amidst this quarantine, a young boy named Atari sets out to the island to find Spots, his dog.

Am I Pretty?

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson
Some of the vistas certainly are eye popping.

Anderson teamed back up with Fantastic Mr. Fox cinematographer Tristan Oliver, and the result is beautiful… garbage. No seriously, this film is about flea-bitten, sickly dogs living on an island of trash; still, it manages to dazzle. The characters are expressive and unique, each one feeling like a tailor made suit for the all-star cast to inhabit. It blends multiple styles, from Looney Tunes effects when the dogs fight to anime reinterpretations of the cast whenever they appear on “Live TV”.

Music has always been a core component of the Anderson-kitsch, and it is strong in Isle of Dogs as well. From a taiko drum opening to the constant refrain of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “I Won’t Hurt You”, the music is a pleasing compliment to the visuals. It might not beat Seu Jorge’s Portuguese Bowie soundtrack from The Life Aquatic, but it’s nearly as memorable.

The film is a visual treat; but most treats usually precede or succeed something… meatier.

No, You’re Just Cute.

Once you get sucked into the gorgeous world Anderson has created, you are rewarded with the same old schtick. Weirdly composed “acts” are insterspersed with flashbacks and quirky asides. The dialogue is witty banter, rife with winking word-play. The characters meander from point A to B, with supposedly humorous happenings padding the journey. At the end of the day, things end; and good or bad I just didn’t feel like any of it had any deeper meaning than entertaining you for 2 hours.

It’s like every other film Anderson has done, and to be frank, I’m tired of it. It’s M. Night Shymalan all over: novelty becomes familiarity becomes contempt. There is nothing technically wrong with this film, but I can’t say anything other than the animation rose above “That was fine”.

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson
Well… I guess 61,943,670 Americans need to learn that lesson, but….

Isle of Dogs is set in a world that looks similar to ours and behaves similarly to ours, but is not ours and doesn’t really seem to want to say anything about us. Sure there’s a political statement: Autocrats are bad. No shit, Sherlock. Are we supposed to take anything else from that? Because if so, I’m gonna have to knock off a few points for the “Conspiracy Theorists, much like broken clocks, are occassionally correct” subplot.

A Good-ish Boy

All we’re left with is: Doggos are very, very good boys and we should refrain from eradicating them. The rest is just Wes Anderson window dressing. If you like that, you’ll love this. Isle of Dogs is pretty, amusing, and witty. It’s an OK movie, but it doesn’t break any new ground. I’ll give this one a treat (my ticket money), but I wish this dog would learn some new tricks.

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson
Good thing MoviePass lets me give these things out willy-nilly.

 

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