The Cambridge Geek

Isle of Dogs

Since I went to the Isle of Dogs exhibition earlier this month, it seemed only sensible to go and watch the film. So I did. And it gave me feelings.

The story is that in one particular Prefecture of Megasaki city, Japan, a hideous disease spreads through the canine population. This snout fever leads to a range of horrible symptoms, and fear of this illness crossing the species barrier to humans is such that all dogs are transported to "Trash Island". It's as broken down as it sounds. The great exodus is organised by Mayor Kobayashi, who sends the pet dog of his ward Atari to be the first resident.

The dogs live a fairly routine life, fighting over the scraps of rubbish sent over by people, and forming small packs, in order to improve their survival chances. And everything just ticks along for three years.

Until Atari crash lands on the island, having decided that damnit, a boy's best friend really shouldn't be treated this way. And so begins Atari's difficult journey to find Spots, aided on the way by a surprisingly friendly set of feral dogs.

Basically, Wes Anderson has cheated. He's made a film about dogs. Get a dog being silly, it is hilarious. Get a dog being sad, and I will cry my eyes out. The howling scene was just cruel. I have absolutely been emotionally manipulated, and it was done really well.

So, first things first, the "actors". Having seen the maquettes, I wasn't too surprised by the humans in this, but the dogs are damned impressive. The amount of work put in to creating realistic fur movement (and similarly grass) must have been incredibly tedious, but it was absolutely worth it. The sheer intricacy of some of the model work is also noteworthy, in particular the crowd scenes, where dozens of people are included.

The fluidity of the models is very impressive, and it's tied brilliantly to the voicework.

Obviously the voicework is delivered well, given the cast they had available (honestly, go look at the cast list, it's ridiculous, though make sure to avoid spoilers), but Bryan Cranston and Jeff Goldblum do rather stand out. Scarlett Johansson is also memorable due to an almost noir-ish scene she gets halfway through the film, but I did find that a couple of the "main" dogs did run together slightly. They were primarily there as joke delivery systems, compared to some of the more gripping stories going on around them. Goldblum is obviously memorable simply due to the quality of his voice, but he does also have the best running gag in the film.

The comedy really runs the gamut. There is some simple silly slapstick (who would have thought multiple things falling over in sequence could be some much fun), balanced against some incredibly black humour. It feels very wrong to laugh about a dead dog, but that bugger Anderson occasionally makes it funny.

There's a lot of background comedy as well, with some entertaining bits of notation/labelling and a fair few jokes just inherent to the concept. Like the title of Part 2; "The Search for Spots".

But as I mentioned, the comedy is balanced against some very dark material, like the roving packs of cannibal dogs, escapees of the animal testing facility on the island, and some unexpectedly emotional scenes. Like giving a dog a bath. Honestly, if you've ever owned a dog, expect to well up more than once.

There is also a bit of sadness in the human's lives.

It's only April, but this is going straight on the longlist for this year's Best of. That's how much I enjoyed it.

Score 5

Tagged: Film Action comedy Animals Fiction Cinema