(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem using homonyms or the confusion common to the English language, so, taking my cue from cleverly homophonic film title, I tried to apply it instead to the language of dogs.)
The language of dogs is a curious tongue.
It cannot be written and cannot be sung.
A “ruff” isn’t “rough” or the variant “roof”;
It’s “Give me a biscuit! I’m not hunger-proof.”
A “bark” isn’t something that grows from a tree.
It’s “Take me outside or else give me a key.”
A “whine” isn’t alcohol people can pour;
It’s “Don’t look at me; it’s that cat from next door.”
A “yelp” doesn’t reference a restaurant review.
It’s “Help! I’ve run out of apparel to chew.”
And woof, yap, and yip have no clear homonym.
So when your dog says them, you’ll have to ask him.
MPAA rating: PG-13
A Wes Anderson expert I am not, but I could tell from the two films of his that I’d seen in full (Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox) that he’s an acquired taste I wasn’t sure I cared to acquire. It’s hard to compare the works of this king of quirk with more traditional cinematic style, but Isle of Dogs has an enjoyably straightforward plot couched among Anderson’s typical flashbacks, symmetrical designs, and camera-facing monologues.
First of all, I love the play on words with Isle of Dogs sounding like “I love dogs” (by the way, that’s the name of an actual district in London), and indeed a love of dogs plays a big part in the movie. In a near-future Japan, an outbreak of disease has led to all dogs of Megasaki City being quarantined on a nearby island. A young boy named Atari, the ward of the dog-hating mayor, goes there in search of his own dog and journeys with a colorful band of alpha dogs, with nation-changing results.
One thing I can definitely say for Isle of Dogs and all of Anderson’s films is that they’re clearly labors of love. Stop-motion animation takes unparalleled patience and attention to detail, and the animation quality and fluidity rival that of Laika (the gold standard studio for stop-motion, see Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline, etc.), with set design made even more laudable by its miniature size. On top of that, the storyline, broken into chapters like a storybook, is buoyed by the bond between Atari and man’s best friend, finding surprising sweetness alongside the not-too-distracting idiosyncrasies.
Something my VC didn’t care for was how the dogs speak English but the language of the Japanese characters is not rendered in English, though it often is translated through electronic or human means. I took it as simply a creative choice, which worked best with Atari’s interactions with the dogs, since we never know how much dogs actually understand our words. Because of this, the dogs get the bulk of the dialogue, and Anderson collected an outstanding voice cast, including Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Liev Schreiber, and even a cameo from Yoko Ono.
Isle of Dogs is a little more mature than most animated films these days, with some darker-than-expected story elements, some of which are relieved by the droll humor and a clever twist or two. But for older kids, dog lovers, and fans of stop-motion, Isle of Dogs is an unconventional treat and certainly the best Wes Anderson film I’ve seen. Maybe next he’ll do a Christmas spin-off called Yule of Dogs.
Best line: (Nutmeg) “Will you help him, the little pilot?”
(Chief) “Why should I?”
(Nutmeg) “Because he’s a twelve-year-old boy. Dogs love those.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2019 S.G. Liput
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