Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson | A Film Analysis by Samer Battikhi, Fine Line Production

  • Film
  • February 3, 2019

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the film Isle of Dogs.

Article by: Samer Battikhi

Throughout the years, several animated films, with their multi-layered stories and complex emotions, proved that this format is not aimed solely for the young audiences, but to the older demographic as well. From the films released by animation studios such as Pixar’s Wall-E (2010), and Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (2001), or other films made by famous directors known for their live-action efforts, such as Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015), and most recently Wes Anderson’s second animated attempt Isle of Dogs (2018).

The famous auteur who is known for his social and political themes, and a distinctive directorial style and method, followed up his highly acclaimed, multiple Oscar nominated film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), with his second stop-motion animation film. Isle of Dogs tells the story of a young boy Atari, voiced by Koyu Rankin, who ventures on an illegal journey to a deserted waste island to bring back his exiled dog Spots.

Isle of Dogs Characters & VO Main Cast

The film brought back many actors who worked with Anderson on several occasions in the past, including Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Jeff Goldblum. Combined with newcomers to the Anderson world, such as actors Bryan Cranston and Liev Schreiber, who voice Chief and Spots respectively, the two hero dogs in the film, and Scarlett Johansson, who voices Nutmeg, the female lead.

Despite the entertainment factor present in the film, the film, without a doubt, carries some strong humane implications. For instance, the film’s release coincides excellently with our global public affairs, social, economical, and political. Although the story takes place twenty years in the future, it is in some ways acts as a prediction to the fate of said cases. The film presents a futuristic Japan ruled by a cat-loving dictator, who tries, with extreme measures, to banish all dogs away to the dumpster island, hoping that they will vanish from their lives.

Moreover, similar to our worldwide refugee crisis, Anderson showed how the dogs are adapting to their new habitat that they were forced to move into, where all the resources are scarce, and the rule of nature applies; survival of the fittest.

Written by several collaborators, the writers of the film decided to name the five main dogs who travel along Atari’s rescue journey, with different names that have the same meaning: Leader, Chief, Boss, King, Rex, and Duke. These bright and courageous dogs, who come from different backgrounds, yet belong to the same homeland, are forced to leave their homes and the loving people around them, while other undeserving creatures, subtly represented in the film by cats and their owners, lead by the dictator himself, Mayor Kobayashi, are welcomed to stay. This could perhaps be another clever innuendo from the filmmakers about the laws and restrictions brought upon the people by governments and the lords of business.

Screenshot from Isle of Dogs

Another tool used by the filmmakers is the language barrier. It was clearly stated at the beginning of the film after the prologue that dogs’ language will be translated into English, while human characters will speak with their native tongue, where certain parts are dubbed or translated throughout other characters in the film. The filmmakers used this tool to be able to choose what to dub and what no to. For instance, most of Akira’s lines in the film stayed in Japanese, and they are not even available in the film’s subtitles, while the Mayor’s dog-hating plans and schemes are always translated to us. This way, the filmmakers offered us “humanized” dogs that we can relate to and sympathise with, and “dehumanized” the humans themselves to magnify their cruelty.

A prominent factor in the film that can not be unnoticed is the musical score, composed by the prestigious, two-time Oscar winner French composer, Alexandre Desplat, Anderson’s frequent collaborator. Desplat conveyed the themes and messages of the film through his unique mixture of stereotypical glorifying music used for the Mayor’s scenes, and more organic, nearly dietetic, pieces for the dogs’ adventures in the island.

Isle of Dogs recently received two Academy Award nominations, for best animated film, and for best musical score. Do you agree with us that animated films have deeper meanings than just entertainment?

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