Isle of Dogs


            “Isle of Dogs” has a lot not going for it:  stop-action animation that seems almost amateurish compared to recent advances in computer graphic imaging.  A lack of likeable human characters.  A pack of dogs wth human voices that don't distinguish themselves enough from each other for us to appreciate the difference in character development.  Tongue-in-cheek humor set in Japanese anime context, which is strange even by Wes Anderson standards.  But, “Isle of Dogs” has one big thing going for it:  the emotional connection with all the viewers who are dog lovers.  And that constitutes a legion of constituents.

            The roots of the controversy, explains the preamble, go way back in Japanese folklore.  But what was long ago a canine dominance eventually settled into the domestication and proliferation of today.  Enter the tyrannical despot, Mayor Kobayashi (draw your own political conclusions), a cat lover, who orders all dog banned to a desert island, where they suffer terrible diseases, not to mention human neglect., and devolve into snarling packs fighting for food scraps.  This kind of abrupt cruelty is opposed by certain peace-loving factions, who want to work harder to develop the serum that will cure the dog diseases.  And there's even student-led demonstrations, headed by an American exchange student, no less, who is eventually ordered to be deported for her troubles.

            But not even the great and powerful Mayor Kabayashi can control his ward, his 12-year-old nephew, Atari, who travels to the Trash Island in search of his own dog, despite the Mayor's attempts to prevent him.  A small pack of friendly dogs, who are impressed by Atari's determination, decide they want to help in the rescue attempt.  Along the way, we have the hint of a dog romance, and some offbeat humor, to try to add some bouyancy to this rather dark cartoon epic.

            Yes, there will probably be a “cult” following, mostly among adults, but it's not likely to become a children's classic like a Disney offering.  It just might, however, tap into your emotional connection with dogs, especially if you've also experienced the urge to “rescue.”


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association