In a future Japan, there has been an outbreak of a disease among dogs that the authorities fear will be spread to humans, nicknamed dog flu. To counter this, all the pet dogs and strays have been banned, rounded up and carted to an island off the coast know colloquially as Trash Island which also houses the nation's garbage, the theory being that at least the animals will have something to eat there, as they can feed themselves on the scraps. Many of the dogs there miss their masters and mistresses terribly, though find they must fight amongst themselves as they begin to turn feral, but one boy, Atari (Koru Rankin), is convinced there is hope for the creatures and means to prove it.
Director Wes Anderson had made a stop motion animation before with another animal-themed effort, the Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Isle of Dogs was an original concept designed to pay tribute to his love of Japanese culture. This outsider's view of the country was channelled into the dog characters' view of their former owners, in that they could understand what they wanted, yet did not understand every word of that; it was a neat idea that some observers dismissed as displaying a shallow concept of the Japanese, though nothing here indicated Anderson was making a parody or an attack, and his respect for the culture was certainly present in many scenes.
Maybe the trouble was that the film needed villains, and they had to be Japanese humans rather than Japanese dogs, which didn't sit well with the criticisers of the results, but Atari was assuredly a heroic little twelve-year-old who had dedicated himself to overthrowing the corrupt leader Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), and not a stereotype. Indeed, this was so off the wall that stereotypes were thin on the ground, and any examples of Japanese life that were depicted were far less clichés than local flavour as Anderson and his team regarded them. However, perhaps it was too bizarre to really gain acceptance outside of the Anderson faithful, as the tone and detail jarred otherwise.
The way it began as a story, with the incidentals to the important plot points, was oddly revolting, a concentration on the degradation of not merely the situation the dogs were landed in, but also the physical reality of being a canine, with all that came with it, eating anything no matter how disgusting, prone to ticks and fleas and scabs, needlessly aggressive with anything they don't recognise, all that stuff owners of pooches tend to ignore when they are rhapsodising over their pets. You started to wonder if Anderson liked dogs as much as the usual array of acting talent he had assembled to provide the voices, and was amusing himself by placing those voices in the mouths of puppets which were not always as noble as the plot demanded, at times downright offputting in practice rather than endearing.
Also, much of that aforementioned tone was curiously arsey, displaying an awkwardness more akin to the refusal of the animal kingdom to be as civilised as humankind than any great acceptance of the beasts as having their own quirks and foibles. Here they had to overcome their essential animal nature to succeed, and by the end were still following the instructions of the people instead of following their own noses to whatever they wanted in an act of self-determination; fair enough, those humans now had their best interests at heart, but for all the rebelliousness of the lead dog, Chief (Bryan Cranston), he wasn't half domesticated by the time the credits rolled. With an anti-vivisection theme added to the mix it appeared someone involved had seen the Richard Adams adaptation The Plague Dogs back in the eighties, there were similarities in the concerns of both, though the earlier cartoon had been more militant in wishing animals the space to be themselves. This was a strange experience overall, difficult to warm to unless you were already invested in Anderson's work. Music by Alexandre Desplat.