Isle of Dogs Early Reviews: Wes Anderson's Latest is Charming & Weird

Early reviews are rolling in for Wes Anderson's upcoming stop-motion animated movie Isle of Dogs, following its premiere at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival. The project is the second stop-motion animated feature from Anderson after his Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr. Fox (which was released in 2009) and reunites the filmmaker with many of his favorite actors; including, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, and of course Bill Murray. Newcomers to the world of Anderson this time around include Bryan Cranston, Courtney B. Vance, Scarlett Johansson, and Lady Bird filmmaker Greta Gerwig.

Isle of Dogs takes place in dystopian future Japan, where the country's dogs are blamed for an epidemic that is dubbed the "canine flu" by the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, one of the film's cowriters) and quarantined to a remote island to subsist on little more than garbage. One day, however, an inventive young boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) manages to sneak onto the eponymous Isle of Dogs and seeks help from its inhabitants in finding his former pet dog, Spots. With the government's authorities hot in pursuit, a group of pups led by the grizzled Chief (Cranston) agree to help Atari in his quest to find his old friend.

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Based on the first wave of reviews for Isle of Dogs, the film is as weird and unusual as its plot summary indicates, but also boasts all the visual splendor and deadpan humor that audiences have come to expect from Anderson's directorial efforts. For more on that subject, read through the spoiler-free Isle of Dogs reviews excepts included below. (You can click on the corresponding links to read the reviews in full.)

Boss (Bill Murray) from Isle of Dogs

Guy Lodge - Variety

A winningly dippy hodgepooch of lo-fi sci-fi, band-of-outsiders adventure and the most meme-ready canine antics you’ll find outside of YouTube, this leisurely tale of abandoned mutts taking on a corrupt human government is effectively puppy-treat cinema: small, salty, perhaps not an entire meal, but rewarding nonetheless.

Jonathan Romney - The Guardian

It’s well known that for Wes Anderson, the world is one big toy box... Now he proves it again [with] Isle of Dogs, an animation [which] opens the Berlin film festival in scintillating style. Anderson has tried his hand at stop-motion animation before with the Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr Fox, but this new talking-animal entertainment is considerably more sophisticated and ambitious.

Fionnuala Halligan - Screen Daily

[Like] all Wes Anderson’s films, Isle Of Dogs is wholly unusual while still being immediately identifiable as a Wes Anderson film. So lush with gorgeous detail it’s like a piece of highly-textured haute couture, there’s also a sharp social message behind the elaborate seams: the dogs are starving, filthy, diseased and quarantined, and only the orphan boy remembers who man’s best friend really is.

Isle of Dogs trailer
Rex (Edward Norton) in Isle of Dogs

David Rooney - THR

Wes Anderson took his fascination for obsessively detailed hermetic worlds, meticulous visual compositions, oddball characters and idiosyncratic storytelling quirks to a heightened level in 2009 with his delightful stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Returning to the form, the director delivers an even wilder, more distinctive experience with Isle of Dogs... The Fox Searchlight March release has cult potential stamped all over it.

Tim Robey - The Telegraph

Everything you might expect to be cute, charming and generally edible about a canine-themed Wes Anderson stop-motion animation is spectacularly upended, then poured into a landfill, during Isle of Dogs. Just unveiled as the Berlin Film Festival’s star-packed opening night film, as The Grand Budapest Hotel was before it, this is by some measure Anderson’s weirdest concoction ever, in all sorts of good ways. And it probably counts as his most daring, too.

Scott Mendelsohn - Forbes

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a visual and narrative delight. It uses stop-motion animation, and a cast mostly made up of talking dogs, to tell a dark and sadly timely story of a citizenry turning on their own friends and neighbors in a time of fear... It is a charming and funny story that doubles as a grim parable for our current grim times.

Chief (Bryan Cranston) and Atari (Koyu Rankin) in Isle of Dogs

Anderson has indicated in the past that Isle of Dogs is his own idiosyncratic salute to the collective works of Japanese filmmaking icons like Yasujirô Ozu (Tokyo StoryAkibiyori) and Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Rashomon). The first reviews confirm as much, suggesting that Anderson's film not only embraces those directors and their art in spirit, but even includes related Easter Eggs for Japanese cinephiles to spot. However, some of the same reviews further caution that Isle of Dogs may rub some people the wrong way, where it comes to how it appropriates Japanese culture and filmmaking traditions into one of Anderson's eccentric settings. The same goes for the lack of development that the Japanese characters receive in comparison to their non-Japanese counterparts, such as the inquisitive young American foreign exchange student Tracy (Gerwig).

Those concerns aside, Isle of Dogs is drawing pretty much universal praise for its gorgeous and highly detailed animation, as well as its distinctly Anderson-ian blend of frequently dark and/or quirky humor with poignant storytelling. It sounds as though longtime Anderson fans should thoroughly enjoy this one then; and who knows, Isle of Dogs may yet manage to convince certain other filmgoers to finally join "Team Wes Anderson".

MORE: Animated Movies That You Didn't Know Were Coming in 2018

Source: Various (see the above links)

Key Release Dates
  • Isle of Dogs (2018) release date: Mar 23, 2018
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