By Andrew Hager, Historian-in-residence
PPM Picks is a weekly feature offering film, book, or music recommendations from our staff. The links provided in the article go to product listings on Amazon. Purchases made using these links support the Presidential Pet Museum. That said, we were not paid to review or promote any of the items mentioned. We just legitimately like them.
Wes Anderson movies all share a distinct aesthetic. Each has impeccable, painterly shot compositions, a droll sense of humor, vintage pop music, and outcast characters learning to live together. The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums marshal incredible casts to serve his unique vision. Now, with Isle of Dogs, he uses stop-motion animation to similarly great effect.
Set in the near future, Dogs concerns an epidemic of dog flu so severe that all canines in the Japanese city of Megasaki have been exiled to Trash Island, where they can die without infecting the human populace. The local mayor is riding high from having solved the crisis, but his 12 year old ward, Atari, has disappeared, heading off to find his furry best friend. Once on the island, he meets a pack of democratic, garbage-eating mutts who decide to help him.
Visually, Anderson references Akira Kurosawa and other Japanese filmmakers while also adding his own touches. Any shots representing a canine point of view, for instance, lack red and green, rendering the mild colorblindness of a dog’s sight. The dogs themselves are adorable but never overly cute.
The voice cast includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono. The score, written by Alexandre Desplat, uses traditional Japanese drums to great effect. Anderson’s striking visual work is thus complemented by an equally compelling soundtrack.
His previous foray into animation, the fantastic Fantastic Mr. Fox fell more squarely into the genre of “family” film. Isle of Dogs, while not overly graphic in content, positions itself as entertainment for slightly older, artistically adventurous children. There are no cheap pop culture references or fart jokes here, no radio-ready pop songs over the closing credits. This is an art film kids can enjoy, one that cinema-savvy parents will like even more.
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