Isle of Dogs is the last movie by director Wes Anderson, and it’s his second stop motion animation film after Fantastic Mr. Fox of 2009. I saw it last night at the theater and I found him very entertaining and at the same time clever. It’s suitable both for adults and for children. Why? I’ll explain below.
At first sight, Isle of dogs is simply an extremely well-made animated film in which an 11-year-old boy joins a group of five dogs to go and find his lost pet. Then the adventure evolves into one crucial for the salvation of the entire canine population of Japan. The Japanese dogs are at risk due to their centuries-old feud with the important Kobayashi family which is ruling the country. So this is the adventurous part of the film that can certainly please the young audience.
At the same time, however, an adult audience cannot fail to appreciate the various tributes to the Japanese culture and its cinema which the film is literally full of. And not only for the themes of the movie, ranging from loyalty to friendship, but also for the aesthetics used, the plot, and the references to films like Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai, in the scene of the dog fight for some food at the beginning) and Tengoku to Jigoku (High and Low, for the character of mayor Kobayashi) by Akira Kurosawa. Even the choice of having as the protagonist an 11-year-old aviator in a world where pollution is a now out of control is reminiscent of the works of Hayao Miyazaki like Porco Rosso and Future Boy Conan. And what about the robotic dogs fighting with the real dogs, like Godzilla did against MechaGodzilla in the 1973 film by Jun Fukuda? Surely the list of references could go on forever, but I stop here because I think that I made my point!
Thus Isle of Dogs has adventure and comedy, but the movie also deals with serious issues like the environment, experiments on animals, loyalty between friends and loyalty between human beings and their animals. The sense of honor is another one of the themes, with the five dogs helping the kid as if they were real samurais on a mission. So, where does the comedy come from? Mostly the comedy is due to the surrealism of the whole thing. There are dogs speaking to each other in English while being in Japan, Japanese characters speaking Japanese, often without any translation, owls speaking in “owl-tongue”… and it’s fun to think of the actors behind the voices we hear: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, Yoko Ono (whose character is called Yoko Ono), and a thousand more! Surreal situations give rise to comic and funny scenes more than once during the film.
In short: the animation is incredible, the music is spectacular, the story is fun, the themes are interesting and important, all the actors do a wonderful voice-acting job… what are you waiting for? Go see Isle of Dogs! Ciao!
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