Isle of Dogs

Apr 5, 2018

Another brilliant animation from one of cinema's current geniuses.

Isle of Dogs

Grade: A

Director: Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox)

Screenplay: Anderson

Cast: Voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, et al.

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 41 min

by John DeSando

If you’ve seen Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, then you know his depiction of animals with sympathetic and accurate human traits is detailed and enduring. So, too, is his recent Isle of Dogs, a rich about a dystopian Japanese city, Megasaki, 20 years into the future, which banishes its dog population to Trash Island over Dog Flu and Snout Fever, fake-newsed by the power brokers, who love cats.

Banter among the dogs reveals Anderson’s tongue-in-cheek humor that fits snugly into the dog psyche: “I only ask for what I've always had, a balanced diet, regular grooming, and a general physical once a year.” Duke (Jeff Goldblum) Somehow the writer/director makes you believe the dogs could talk with deadpan humor and retain their doggedness.

The central conflict is seen through 12-year old orphan Atari’s (Koyu Rankin) search for his lost guard dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), on the island, facilitating the story’s childlike attachment to and search for meaningful love. Allegorically the larger picture fleshes out any totalitarian regime that would marginalize a segment, such as a minority or a race, for spurious reasons just to rid a country of dissent. Migration, as it is today, is the order of the day for the oppressed.

The dog rebellion could reflect Anderson’s interest in the poor and oppressed fighting the establishment as he did in Grand Budapest Hotel or Fantastic Mr. Fox for that matter.

“To the North, a long rickety causeway over a noxious sludge marsh, leading to a radioactive landfill polluted by toxic chemical garbage. That's our destination. Get ready to jump.” Rex (Edward Norton) The landfill, of course, figuratively stands for the poverty of the minority and the criminal neglect of the majority.

Yet, here is a story rich in love for canines (just say the title very slowly for hidden laugh), the goodness of human beings who are fighting for freedom and equality, and Japanese culture and cinema (the decayed statute of Toshiro Mifune reminds us of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa). Dogs speaking in English while Japanese speak native is a typical Anderson quirk.

This is Wes’s beautifully stop-motioned story, a technique that allows for rich detail like a purple volcano and overhead shot of a kidney transplant.  Japanese Taiko drummers punctuate the story for richly authentic detail.

While the dialogue can be too cute at times and the voices not distinct enough, overall the island is a trove of canine-human delights, mostly that witty dialogue, and so fast that you’ll want to visit the island again and again.

Isle of Dogs is about the longing of the human spirit to be free. The dogs refuse to be subordinated. No different today, no need to trump up the circumstances with wild comparisons. That’s about what I said for Fantastic Mr. Fox. At least my affection for Anderson’s genius is consistent.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at