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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Isle of Dogs is an imaginative stop-motion animated movie from Wes Anderson, who also directed Fantastic Mr. Fox; this one has a bit more iffy material. Dogs fight (shown as a cloud of smoke with limbs popping in and out), and we see injuries to both dogs and humans and a little animated blood and gore. Some dogs have military-issue teeth that fire like bullets and explode. A sushi chef chops up live, moving fish for a meal. Minor characters die, dog skeletons are shown, and there are spoken and visual moments with scary and/or unpleasant images (as well as talk of suicide). Expect a few references to dogs being in heat and mating; a human male's bottom is seen as he gets out of the bath. Language includes "son of a bitch," "bitch" (referring to a female dog), and "damn it." A woman sits at a bar with drinks in front of her. Some younger kids might be confused by the lack of translation of most of the movie's spoken Japanese, but the story is still totally clear (although it has sparked some discussion around possible cultural appropriation). It's a wondrous movie, but it's likely best for tweens and up.
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What's the story?
In ISLE OF DOGS, canine flu has ravaged a futuristic Japan, and the tyrannical mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) decides to exile all dogs to Trash Island, starting with his own son Atari's faithful pooch, Spots (Liev Schreiber). Some time later, Atari (Koyu Rankin) crash-lands a small plane on the island in search of his beloved pet. Instead, he meets a roving gang of five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) -- all of whom lived in homes with humans -- and Chief (Bryan Cranston), who was mostly a stray. While they search for Spots, Chief slowly starts to bond with Atari. Meanwhile, an exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), working at her school newspaper, tries to uncover a government conspiracy against the dogs.
Is it any good?
Wes Anderson's ninth feature film (his second in stop-motion animation) is his wildest and waggiest yet, expanding his wondrous, inventive vision while retaining his meticulous compositions. Isle of Dogs -- which, if spoken aloud, sounds like "I love dogs" -- is probably Anderson's first movie to deal with the downtrodden and rejected, as well as politics and conspiracies, yet all of these things feel perfectly at home in his universe. He's been accused many times of being overly cute, but he clearly loves his characters; he probably laughs along with their quirky sense of humor.
The movie is sublimely funny but also a bit edgy, and it's certainly bittersweet and heartfelt. Certain moments are bound to prompt a tear or two, such as when Chief tastes a doggie treat for the first time. Anderson's last stop-motion movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was more kid friendly and also more straightforward. This one has a much bigger vision, and its movements and rhythms are utterly unique. The compositions of the shots are unfailingly jaw-dropping; as with the work of Stanley Kubrick, any frame from this movie could be taken out and viewed as a beautiful snapshot. On the whole, it's a pure treasure.
Talk to your kids about ...
How did teamwork help the characters in Isle of Dogs realize their goal? When you're a member of a team, how do you help your team succeed?
Is Tracy Walker a positive role model? Why or why not?
Anderson has clearly taken great care in his world-building and his choices in depicting Asian characters, but some people may find it problematic due to what could be viewed as stereotypical characterization and a "white savior." What's your take on Anderson's/the movie's choices in this respect?
- In theaters: March 23, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: July 17, 2018
- Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin
- Director: Wes Anderson
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and violent images
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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