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Western Animation / Isle of Dogs

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"To the north, a long rickety causeway over a noxious sludge marsh leading to a radioactive landfill polluted by toxic chemical garbage. That's our destination."

Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animated film directed by Wes Anderson, his second animated film after 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Twenty years into the future, Japan has been overrun with dogs, and a disease known as "dog flu" is ripping through the city of Megasaki. The city's mayor, Kobayashi, has decreed that all dogs are to be sent to Trash Island to contain the disease, creating the eponymous Isle of Dogs. A young boy named Atari Kobayashi flies to the island in an attempt to rescue his dog Spots, enlisting the help of a pack of dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston).

The film features an all-star cast, including both Anderson mainstays like Bill Murray and Edward Norton and also newcomers like Ken Watanabe and Yoko Ono. The film had its limited release on March 23, 2018, with a wide release on April 13th, 2018.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Spots uses his own (military-grade) teeth, and spitting them out proves ridiculously effective at blowing up Robot Dogs.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Nutmeg is attracted to Chief because "I'm not into tame animals."
  • Angry Collar Grab: Tracy does this to Yoko Ono at the restaurant to make her come to her senses.
  • Animal Jingoism: Cats and cat symbolism regularly appear accompanying the dog-hating villains. Contrary to what you might expect in the prologue, the cats never actively participate in the plot or do anything evil, and are mostly around for motif purposes.
  • Animal Talk: As with Fantastic Mr. Fox, the film's animal cast speaks perfect English, though it's handwaved in the prologue by saying "all barks have been rendered in English." The only other animal to talk, an owl, is just shown hooting, implying it's species-specific.
  • Animated Actors: A funnily literal meta-example. In an ingenious marketing move, Anderson and Crew recorded the cast giving interviews for the promotional campaign, and then uploaded a video with the dogs animated to match.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Happens during the climax when Tracy has her student visa nullified after protesting against Kobayashi, and then when Spots fights the robot dog, he loses an eye and a limb, and Atari is severely injured as well.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Whatever happened to 'man's best friend'?"
    • "I bite."
    • "You heard the rumor, right, about (subject)?"
  • Art Shift: The scenes of Atari, Spot, and Chief escaping the robo-dogs and falling into the river are traditionally animated.
  • Aside Glance: Professor Watanabe glances in alarm at the camera in an early scene.
  • Aspect Montage: The preparation of the poisoned sushi is shown in a number of key shots.
  • Babies Ever After: Downplayed. Spots and Peppermints' litter are born roughly before the climax, but we do see them at the ending with both their mother and father.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: There isn't much on-screen violence towards animals, but this is the main source of conflict in the movie.
    • The Kobayashi Dynasty exiles all dogs in Megasaki to Trash Island with the intent of them all dying of disease and starvation. And when a pro-dog resistance begins to oppose them, Mayor Kobayashi and his conspirators devise a plan to kill all of the dog population with poison.
    • A chef under the order of Major Domo to poison Professor Watanabe coldly prepares sushi by cutting open a live fish and ripping a live crab in half with his bare hands.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The film's final shot attempts to trick one into thinking that Spots died in the climax, only to reveal he survived, minus an eye and a foot.
  • Bathos: Andersons's signature sense of humor helps soften the darker elements of the story, such as the awful conditions on the island and the dog's abandonment issues.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Nutmeg is a splendid looking dog, her hair is always neat and perfectly combed and she also smells clean. Lampshaded by the dogs, who wonder how she can stay clean after months on the island since there isn't even shampoo there.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: The glasses-wearing hacker in Tracy's class never speaks during the movie; He not only infiltrates Kobayashi's enforcers on Trash Island easily, but he also dispatches them at the climax by reversing the wasabi-poison into their containment suits.
  • Big Ball of Violence: Most of the fighting is rendered as this. Given how the rest of the animation is pretty grounded and realistically flowing, the sudden cartoony violence winds up jarring, but hilarious.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Spots and his band of dogs appear to save Atari from the mayor's goons in the middle of the movie.
  • Big Red Button: The device to activate the destruction of Trash Island has a big blinking red button.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A significant portion of the film uses kanji and katakana in text, and much of the film's dialogue is in Japanese. While most of the text has English captions, a lot of the actual dialogue is left unsubtitled (except by in-universe interpreters who aren't always reliable), presumably to invoke this trope and add flavour.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Atari and the dogs are likable heroes, while Mayor Kobayashi and the clan he represents are comprised of fascist warmongers, yakuza, skeletal assassins and dog-haters. However, he realizes the evil of his ways and repents. There is only one actually evil person in the movie.
  • Bubblegum Popping: Tracy does this when being introduced in class.
  • The Cameo:
    • Assistant-Scientist Yoko Ono appears throughout the movie, but she only speaks in one scene where's she's voiced by... the actual Yoko Ono.
    • Ken Watanabe makes a quick vocal appearance late in the film as a surgeon.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Tracy tells her classmates that she has a Gut Feeling Kobayashi is up to something, the head of the school newspaper tells her that he will not publish an article based solely upon a hunch. When she outright says Kobayashi is part of a conspiracy, he refuses to publish an article accusing the mayor of such a thing.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The hacker at Atari's school, who is shown here and there infiltrating the organization who'll exterminate the dogs. At the climax, he's the one to neutralize Major-Domo's hijacking of Kobayashi's extermination plot, after Kobayashi decides to spare the dogs.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Due to Mayor Kobayashi being arrested on corruption charges during his re-election, it ends up defaulting to his heir, meaning Atari becomes mayor. To take this a step further, the student dissidents end up becoming his staff.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A 4-chapter manga by Minetaro Mochizuki of Dragon Head fame.
  • Crush Blush: Tracy blushes when Atari refers to her as "an attractive cub reporter" in a speech.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to Anderson's previous stop-motion film. Whereas Fantastic Mr. Fox is a bright children's fantasy film, Isle of Dogs is rated PG-13, has a more dystopian setting, grayer colors, slower pace and some graphic violence.
  • Day of the Jackboot: Japan seems to have gone full fascist, judging from all the militaristic imagery and Nazi-like rallies throughout the film.
  • Delayed Reaction: Both the Robodog and Spots stand there for a few seconds after their final fight and then collapse.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Assistant scientist Yoko Ono takes Professor Watanabe's death really badly, and even though everything's pointing to their dog flu cure being effective, she's almost given up hope of anyone even caring. Thankfully, Tracy snaps her out of it.
    • Downplayed: early in the film, Atari despairs hard when he finds his beloved dog apparently dead and prepares to head back to the mainland. Since we wouldn't have much of a movie if he was actually dead, the dogs rush to get Atari back when they found out it's not his dog who died.
  • Down in the Dumps: The film mostly takes place on the titular isle, which is actually named "Trash Island" in-universe and is literally a giant landfill.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Mayor Kobayashi has a change of heart at the climax, but the Majordomo does not and presses the Big Red Button anyway.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Subverted. Rex, Duke, King and Boss are unceremoniously fed into a trash incinerator, but the film cuts to them later showing that they're fine as the incinerator is not working properly.
  • Ear Ache: Chief bites the ear off another dog named Igor, who doesn't seem that bothered by the injury.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Kobayashi really does love his adopted son, and learning that even after all he's done, Atari is still grateful to him for saving his life, is the push he needs for his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Everyone Has Standards: What makes Chief's speech towards Spots powerful is that he himself used to be a stray who (formerly) couldn't care less about Atari's well-being, and even he's disgusted that Spots would ask to be released from his duty as Atari's guard dog.
  • Fauxshadow: According to the legend of the Boy Samurai, the Kobayashi clan was about to kill the last of Japan's wild dogs before a boy stood up to them and decapitated their ancestral leader. In the climax, despite fitting the archetype, Atari doesn't kill his Uncle Kobayashi. Instead, he appeals to his kinder side by comparing his adoption to that of taking in a stray dog out of kindness.
  • Food Porn: Roughly halfway in the movie, we're treated to a detailed scene of a chef preparing a bento box with fresh fish, crab, and squid. It exists to show us the moment where a sushi roll is laced with poison wasabi to assassinate Professor Watanabe.
  • For Want of a Nail: A positive example; had Boss not pilfered the name tag from (what he believes to be) Spots' cage, the search for Spots would have ended right there, consigning every exiled dog to be euthanized.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Tracy does a pretty epic version of this to assistant scientist Yoko Ono, snapping her out of her Despair Event Horizon to confirm her conspiracy theory and give her the dog flu cure.
  • Gratuitous English: Most of the human characters natively speak Japanese, but occasionally drop quick English words. Early on, the dogs have trouble understanding Atari's Japanese, but they do recognize "Sit" and respond accordingly.
  • Handicapped Badass: All the dogs are suffering from Dog Flu throughout the majority of the film, but a lot of them can still pull off quite impressive feats.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Subverted. While Kobayashi undergoes a turn from villainy and undoes the Trash Island decree, he's still guilty of a lot of other crimes, so he and his co-conspirators still end up in jail.
  • Hitler Cam: Kobayashi during his speeches at the beginning of the film.
  • Hope Spot: Professor Watanabe's assassination. He manages to notice something's up with the poison wasabi-laced sushi and takes a tiny lick out of it. A scene later, we see that unfortunately this was enough to kill him.
  • Important Haircut: After an important bit of bonding, Atari gives Chief a bath and grooming session, causing him to lose much of his grizzly appearance and reveal he actually has white fur with black speckling, like Spots.
  • Institutional Apparel: The striped prison outfits of Mayor Kobayashi and his henchmen at the end.
  • I Own This Town: In addition to being on his sixth consecutive mayoral term, Kobayashi also owns a company that seems to make the vast majority of the utilities in Megasaki.
  • Ironic Echo: Nutmeg's repeated line to Chief, "I'll tell you when I get to know you better."
  • Love Before First Sight: Tracy and Atari don't meet for most of the movie, but as Tracy uncovers Atari's efforts to find Spots, she finds it difficult to organize her thoughts about him.
    Tracy: Damn it... I've got a crush on you.
  • Major Injury Underreaction:
    • One of the dogs of a rival tribe points out to another that his ear was chewed off. When the dog (Igor) notices it, he seems more annoyed at his friend for pointing out something so obvious than he does hurt.
    • A more serious example; Atari spends most of the movie with a chunk of metal piercing his skull, yet he stoically shrugs it off. In the climax, he ends up with another piece of shrapnel stuck in his head, and he passes out, requiring brain surgery.
  • Makeover Montage: Of Atari cleaning Chief.
  • Meaningful Echo: The beginning of the film has Professor Watanabe attempting to speak out to save the dogs, ending his speech with "Whatever happened to man's best friend?" which is met with booing from the audience. In the film's climax, Atari makes his speech at the same podium and delivers a poignant haiku, also containing the words "Whatever happened to man's best friend?" This time, the audience is moved to tears.
  • Medium Blending: Anything filmed with a camera in-universe is shown on screens as 2D animation designed to look like a traditional Japanese painting.
  • Meet the New Boss: When Atari and his new cabinet come into power, one of the laws we see them working on is suggesting the Death Penalty for anyone being even mean to a dog. Luckily this is subverted when they disagree with that charge and simply suggest community service and a heavy fine instead.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Kobayashi experiences this, admitting he had been acting without honor.
    • Chief also feels this way while revealing that he bit a child so hard that the boy ended up in the hospital, feeling that he has to be a stray to keep that from happening again.
  • Myth Prologue: The opening shows Jupiter narrating the legend of the first clash between free dogs and the cat-loving Kobayashi clan, whose leader is beheaded by a boy warrior who chooses to protect the dogs, foretelling the modern-day struggle between the Trash Island dogs and Kobayashi's regime.
    Jupiter: At the end of the bloody dog wars the vanquished mongrels became powerless house-pets: tamed, mastered, scorned. But they survived and multiplied. The Kobayashis, however, never forgave their conquered foe.
  • Narrator: Courtney B. Vance narrates the film.
  • No Flow in CGI: No Flow in Stop-Mo: Not so much averted as shot in the head and left in the dirt. The animators certainly earned their overtime pay on this one.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: When asked if he eats other dogs, Gondo responds by saying that it happened only one time because their former pack leader was sick. Faced with either surviving or dying, they had no choice but to eat him. Gondo is not proud of this fact, and he howls in sorrow along with the other dogs.
  • Obviously Evil: Kobayashi and his co-conspirators are all very overtly sinister-looking, particularly the gaunt, skeletal Major Domo.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Spots encounters the infamous cannibal dogs on the island and asks if they're going to eat him. Their leader, Gondo, is indignant that other dogs think of them as only cannibals, admitting that they only ate one dog one time, and that was because of their former leader being stuck in a coma, and the choices were either eat him to live or starve. Gondo takes this pretty hard since the dog they ate was his best friend.
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: The movie is divided into chapters by the use of title cards.
  • Patchwork Map: Invoked by the filmmakers; many sections of Trash Island are very sorted and built up of one type of trash, many of them having their own distinct colors (areas of white paper, brown rusty cars, black TV screens, etc.).
  • The Place: The movie's title.
  • The Power of Love: Mayor Kobayashi's love for Atari ultimately makes him renege on his promise to the dog-hating clan, admitting his corruption, and calling off the strike.
  • Pun-Based Title: While never officially confirmed, "Isle of Dogs" sounds suspiciously like "I love dogs" when said aloud.
  • Putting on the Reich: Kobayashi has giant monolithic posters of his face everywhere and takes advantage of a crisis to consolidate vast amounts of political power, a crisis that he deliberately created to begin with for exactly this purpose, as is commonly theorized about the Reichstag Fire. His ultimate endgame is the mass poisoning of every dog in Megasaki.
  • Retro Universe: Despite being set 20 years from now, the technology seen in the film has a very deliberately outdated, pre-WWII Zeerust look to it, not to mention having experimental jets and incredibly advanced robot dogs existing alongside black and white CRT TVs and now-vintage cars. Considering that real-life western society in 2018 features gramophones and magnetic tape returning to popularity, plug-and-play versions of old video game systems becoming hot-selling items, and retro-ness in general becoming more "in" than ever before, the assumption seems quite reasonable.
  • The Reveal: Once Atari gives Chief a bath, it turns out Chief is not a black dog with bits of white, but a white dog with bits of black. This proves to be a heavy bit of Foreshadowing as even Chief points out the resemblance between himself and Spots. They are long-lost brothers.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: One location in the film is a ruined nuclear power plant which is said to have been destroyed by an earthquake, a tsunami, and a volcano, resulting in toxic nuclear material being spilled and creating an uninhabitable wasteland. This is essentially a much more disastrous version of the real-life Fukushima disaster.
  • Robot Dog: Kobayashi has been developing them following the exile of the real dogs, both to serve as new pets, and to serve the police to track and fight targets.
  • Running Gag:
    • "You heard the rumor, right, about ____?" This later leads to a Brick Joke where the rest of the pack asks Duke where exactly he hears all these rumors.
    • Rex repeatedly taking charge and offering a direct plan of action, and Chief snapping that one dog alone does not lead them, they all do (followed by a vote in which he is the only dissenting opinion).
    • Nutmeg performing one of her old show dog tricks, describing the items she's supposed to be performing them with, leading to Chief imagining the scenario and responding with "Yeah, I can picture it."
    • The dogs sneeze plenty of times in the movie since sneezing is a symptom of snout fever.
  • Sailor Fuku: Younger characters sport the more traditional school uniform, including Tracy.
  • Scenery Porn: It's a Wes Anderson movie, duh.
  • Separated at Birth: Surprisingly, Chief and Spots.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Japanese cinema, particularly the films of Akira Kurosawa:
    • The song "Tokyo Shoeshine Boy" was in the movie M*A*S*H and AKIRA.
    • An old boat stuck high up on a rock is identical to the one that decorates Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon water park.
    • Trash Island has massive similarities to the Earth as depicted in Disney-Pixar's WALL•E.
    • The Island is also a Shout-Out to Japan's real-life Hashima Island.
    • Tracy resembles Little Orphan Annie.
  • Sigil Spam: Since long ago the Kobayashi clan had a great conflict with dogs, and ended up cast as the villain in legend, they've taken the cat as their symbol. ALL Kobayashi buildings (including government buildings because Kobayashi has been mayor for some time) have a cat's head logo adorning them.
  • Slow Electricity: When Major Domo presses the Big Red Button, its signal travels slowly across the wire.
  • Split Screen: Swiftly used when the task force shuttle crashes onto the island.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Right before fighting a rival dog tribe over a bag of garbage, Rex suggests they look at what's inside the bag to see if it's even worth fighting for. At first, it seems to work, but then Chief declares that it's worth fighting over anyway.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • The title sounds like "I love dogs" when said quickly.
    • Atari gives Chief a bath, washing away all the grime that made him a black dog with white spots, and making him a white dog with black spots. He's "white-washing" Chief's crimes as a vicious dog with a bite history.
  • String Theory: Tracy has a wall in her room with paper clips connected by strings.
  • Synthetic Plague: Dog flu was invented by Kobayashi pharmaceuticals to give the dynasty a pretext for removing all the dogs.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Averted; although he's clearly the most perceptive and aware dog in the pack, Rex is still blindsided no less than three times when he gets carried away with his own monologues.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: The poisoned wasabi.
  • Technicolor Science: The lab that produced the dog flu features flasks of various colors on its shelves.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: While telling his backstory about being a former mascot, Boss remarks matter-of-factly, "I've lost all my spirit, I'm depressing."
  • Theme Naming: All of the main Five-Dog Band have names that are titles of authority: King, Duke, Boss, Chief, and Rex (Latin for "King.") This gets lampshaded in the Running Gag of Chief saying one dog does not get to lead all the others, and they have to put an idea to a vote.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill:
    • The amount of poison in the very tiny bit of wasabi Professor Watanabe barely licks is stated to have 10x the amount of poison needed to stop the heart of a whale.
    • Mayor Kobayashi is later seen getting ready to deploy barrels upon barrels of it to Trash Island. No matter how many dogs are on Trash Island, that is wildly unnecessary.
  • Thicker Than Water: Mayor Kobayashi, when confronted by Atari, chooses to un-stamp the trash island decree, due to his love for his nephew and the fact that Atari chose to take a more peaceful resolution than in the original fairy tale; and he also chooses to donate his kidney to Atari, knowing full well that he will lose all his political power in doing so.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Each of the five main dogs discuss their favorite meal.
    • Rex says that his favorite food is a double portion of Doggy Chop from the can mixed into a bowl of broken Puppy Snap treats with a vitamin crushed up into it. Though he does say that since his master wasn't rich, it wasn't a daily meal.
    • King mentions that his favorite food is center cut Kobe ribeye, seared on the bone with salt and pepper. He says that it's his birthday supper every year.
    • Boss's favorite food is hot sausage, yakitori style. He mentions that the snack vendor at the baseball games often saves him one on game days.
    • Duke says that his favorite food was green tea ice cream, adding that he probably inherited a sweet tooth from his master.
    • Chief denies having a favorite food, saying that he's used to leftovers and garbage. It's later revealed that back when he was a pet, his favorite food was actually homemade hibachi chili (which he tried after biting a child), and he switches to Puppy Snap treats when Atari offers him one.
    Chief: Crunchy... salty... supposedly, it cleans your teeth. This is my new favorite food.
  • Translation Convention: The movie loves playing with this. The prologue explicitly points out that "all of the dog's barks have been translated into English," but leaves the human-spoken Japanese unsubtitled, effectively putting the audience in the same linguistic shoes as the dogs (assuming they speak English and not Japanese). Also, there are in-universe news interpreters that translate into English, as well as characters who either speak it natively or in quick passing.
  • Trash Landing: Rex (and presumably the other dogs) is air-dropped to Trash Island.
  • Travel Montage: A montage of shifting backgrounds as Atari and the dogs travel across the island.
  • Verbal Tic: The dogs will sometimes sneeze before, during, or after talking. It's mentioned as a symptom of dog flu.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In 1911, the City of Istanbul exiled its entire stray dog population to Sivriada, a small island in the Bosporus Strait. All 80,000 dogs perished there agonizingly.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ironically, it's the hero of our story (Chief) who is giving such a speech to another hero (Spots), the one they've been searching for. He calls out Spots for essentially wanting to give up his duty as Atari's guard dog because he has a new duty as the leader of the Aboriginal dogs, and he is going to be a father. And this is despite what Atari went through to find his dog, something none of the Megasaki residents even bothered to try.
  • Worth It: Before the dogs fight, Rex suggests opening the sack of leftovers first to see if it's worth fighting for. His pack and the other pack agree, and they open it up. Rex describes all that's in the sack, and it's only when Rex mentions a gizzard that Chief declares "Okay, it's worth it," and the two packs immediately start fighting.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Discussed and defied by Rex, who suggests opening the sack of leftovers before fighting over it, since it would be a shame to resort to violence only to learn their prize wasn't actually worth the pain.
  • Yakuza: One of the groups in on the Kobayashi conspiracy is the local yakuza, in charge of public opinion via intimidation and misinformation. The mayor is also shown to have yakuza tattoos.
  • You Make Me Sick: Chief to the pack of dogs regarding their apparent lack of courage.
    Chief: You all make me sick! (pukes to the side) I've seen cats with more balls than you dogs!
  • You Must Be This Tall to Ride: A sign in front of the helter-skelter. Atari doesn't care.


Video Example(s):


"You heard the rumour, right?"

Duke frequently brings up several rumours throughout the film, about various subjects.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / RunningGag

Media sources: