Movie Review

Quirky stop motion captivates audience

As a fan of Wes Anderson, I was super excited to see Isle of Dogs. I loved what he did in Moonrise Kingdom, and Grand Budapest Hotel is still one of my favorite movies. When I saw the trailer for Isle of Dogs, I was a bit puzzled. Instead of human actors, or even non-human actors, the trailer featured stop motion dogs and a tiny stop motion human. Honestly, this shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise, as Anderson’s 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox was done in a similar style, but I hadn’t anticipated seeing something like it anytime soon. I’m glad I went in having only seen the trailer though. Isle of Dogs is an incredible, albeit bizzare, movie that’s hard to describe.

Isle of Dogs is set in a far away future, located in stop motion Japan. Dogs have been subjected to a terrifying plague, and are multiplying out of control. This prompts the mayor of Megasaki City to deport them to Trash Island—a garbage dumping island far off the coast. The story splits the movie roughly in half, with part of it taking place on the island, and the other part in the city. On the island, we follow a young boy, Atari, as he crashes on the island in order to look for his dog, Spots. He is aided by a loyal pack of misfit dogs: former pets that desperately want to return home. They travel through dangerous terrain and narrowly avoid rescue parties sent to capture Atari, while their backstories are explored and the true effect of dog flu is explained. On the mainland, the story follows American exchange student Tracy as she works to uncover an anti-science conspiracy that has slowly taken over Megasaki City. She is followed as she uncovers a murder mystery, and a plot to rid the island of all its dogs forever.

If any of that seemed out there to you, then we’re on the same page. Isle of Dogs was all over the place, but in an incredibly fun way. Both plots were entertaining and full of twists. The movie was captivating, and even that which seemed far-fetched ended up being understandable and enjoyable. I liked the unique way of stop motion storytelling, which brought out a human-like persona from the dogs. 

That’s not to say that I liked everything about the movie. All of the humans in the movie spoke Japanese, and the decision to only translate their lines when they were being translated thematically—for example, when someone was making a speech—was questionable. Atari spoke entirely in Japanese, and the only words I understood were the ones which I was meant to understand: “Fetch-u, Biscuit-u.” Also, the character of Tracy was a bit overdone. She went from dorky exchange student, to conspiracy theorist, to cool motivational speaker, to political activist, and didn’t seem to fully mesh with any of her roles. Maybe that was the point, as she was meant to represent an American perspective into this whole charade. 

Overall, I enjoyed Isle of Dogs. It’s quirky, it’s fun, and I’d probably see it again. The stop-motion animation is something I applaud, and it’s unlikely that I’ll see anything like it soon.