“Isle of Dogs” masterful animation, shallow characterization

Ethan Maneja, Staff Reporter

Wes Anderson’s return to the big screen with animated film “Isle of Dogs,” has the potential to be a great film, but lacks the heart to achieve it.

“Isle of Dogs” takes place in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki City in the near future. It tells the story of Atari Kobayashi and his journey to Trash Island to reunite with his dog Spots after the dogs of Megasaki City are quarantined by his adoptive uncle, Mayor Kobayashi.

“Isle” is only Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation since his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” However, the film’s mixture of 2D animation and stop-motion with extremely detailed puppets comes together to beautiful effect.

“Isle” continues Anderson’s tradition of hiring an all-star cast, starring the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray and even Yoko Ono.

Atari’s voice actor, 11-year-old Koyu Rankin, steals the show, speaking solely in untranslated Japanese, leaving the audience to comprehend what Atari is saying through emotion and context of the scenes alone. Rankin manages to convey Atari’s kindness and strength to the audience without ever crossing the language boundary.

However, if there is one phrase that describes the major issue of the film, it is “wasted potential.” “Isle” hints at plot points and characters’ backgrounds but fails to follow through by integrating them into the story.

The film only mentions that Atari was recently orphaned, implying that he has a lonely and friendless life with the exception of Spots. The film also skims the backgrounds of the dogs before their deportation; the audience is thrust into the action of the film, without showing any backstory.

Another issue lies in the wasted opportunity for social critique; with themes of deportation and ostracism by government officials, the movie’s many parallels to real-life political issues could have been explored in meaningful ways.

Anderson certainly isn’t a stranger to this theme: in his acclaimed 2014 film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the protagonist, Zero Moustafa, fled his war-torn homeland for a better life and the racism and distrust he faces is one of the major conflicts of the film. The dogs’ plight in “Isle” seems like an afterthought that’s just meant to advance the plot.

While Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” has the cast and animation of a great work, the shallow backstories and unexplored themes dilute the film to a lukewarm and generic boy-and-his-dog-esque film.