Review: Isle of Dogs

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: In hopes of finding his loyal guard dog Spots, a young boy travels to an island inhabited only by the sickly dogs who were banished from their homes in Japan. While on the search, he is helped by a group of one time pets who take pity on the desperate child.

REVIEW: Wes Anderson has the knack for crafting uniquely entertaining features like MOONRISE KINGDOM and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. However, when the filmmaker takes on stop motion animation is when I really appreciate the filmmakers vision the most. With FANTASTIC MR. FOX, he presented an animated adventure that was equally accessible to the young and old. With his latest, ISLE OF DOGS, he may have outdone himself. This exceptional feature is a witty, charming and irresistible fable about friendship and loyalty.   It never panders or attempts to sell toys, although it may be a bit too mature at times for much younger viewers with a PG-13 rating. If you’ve ever wanted to see a stop motion medical procedure, well then this is the movie for you. Even with that, it is well worth taking the family to and giving them something that is just a little bit smarter than your average kiddie flick.

The story takes place in Japan, where all the pet puppies and stray dogs have a sickness. In an attempt to protect the people, Mayor Kobayashi (Kumichi Nomura) orders all dogs to be sent to a place known as “trash island” – the Mayor however may have ulterior motives because of his anti-dog stance. The first dog to go is the loyal guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) who protects the Mayor’s ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) – an orphan Kobayashi has taken in. In a desperate attempt to get his dog back, Atari steals a small plane and crashes down on the island. Once there, a group of loyal pups including Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) decide to help the young pilot. Against his better judgment, a stray mutt named Chief (Bryan Cranston) adds to the support as they attempt to find Spots.

isle of dogs wes anderson bill murray bryan cranston stop motion animation

Anderson has always had a knack for assembling an amazing cast, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Norton, Balaban, Murray, Goldblum and Cranston are all terrific. With each of the five having something special to offer story wise. Koyu is also quite fantastic as the young pillot looking for his lost dog. Other cast members include Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton and even Yoko Ono. This eclectic group – many have worked with Anderson previously – bring this whimsical tale to life.

One of the most unique elements of the film is the choice to have the characters speak in their own voice and accent without using subtitles. Instead, whenever one of the Japanese characters is talking, their dialogue is explained by a news interpreter (McDormand), or by using other methods like computer print outs. The only ones that speak with an english accent are the dogs. It is explained early on that their barks have been translated for the film. For me, Anderson’s specific style works incredibly well in stop motion animation for that very reason. It's a creative way to tell this story from the dogs point of view. As well, the choice to not shy away from using different languages and embracing the Japanese culture only made the experience all the more enjoyable.

When it comes to the look of ISLE OF DOGS, Anderson opens the film strong with a fun title sequence featuring three drummers beating on a taiko – a Japanese percussion instrument. Each dog has their own look and personality, as do the human characters. One of the most interesting things here is that Wes still gives fans a few darker images including a surgery and several dog fights. Yet all of it is done is a fun way, so even if you have younger children, the more mature images and the growling and snarling dog fights shouldn’t phase them too much. Every single time the dogs get into a brawl, you see a cloud of smoke with random cuts of a tail or a bite, almost like an old fashioned Road Runner cartoon. Even the sickness ravaging the animals plays out like the common cold for the pups. Every time they sneeze, it’s kind of adorable, although they are all mangy from lack of care.

isle of dogs wes anderson bryan cranston bill murray jeff goldblum animation stop motion

This is a  rich story about loyalty that manages to use the dogs in a profoundly amusing way. You have a pup named Duke, played by Goldblum, who always seems to know what is going on thanks to his love of gossip. There are the side characters of Jupiter and Oracle played by Abraham and Swinton, both of whom add a little humor, especially with the Oracle’s hilarious way of seeing the future. And finally, there is Chief. Cranston is so strong here as a dog who bites, and he makes sure everyone is aware of that fact. Yet you cannot help but love him thanks to Atari’s growing bond with the stray. It is something truly special.

ISLE OF DOGS is yet another win for Wes Anderson. The stop motion animation is beautifully done, and the Japanese inspired score by Alexandre Desplat is gorgeous. This is the kind of story that Anderson has nearly perfected. There are a couple of jokes that don’t necessarily work or last too long, and it perhaps could have been a tad shorter, but that is unlikely to hinder your enjoyment.  This is an inspired story for all the dog lovers out there – and no, you don’t have to love dogs to appreciate the art. Wes Anderson’s ISLE OF DOGS is yet another example of creating great family entertainment without sacrificing heart and real honest to goodness emotion. Go see this film.

Isle of Dogs



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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.