There’s (mostly) a lot to love about Isle of Dogs. It has charm for days, as to be expected with any Wes Anderson movie; a voice cast that will knock your socks off, including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, and Scarlett Johansson; and completely unique animation and, oh yeah, countless adorable pups.
But perhaps most notably, for dog owners and lovers, Isle of Dogs gets at what it *truly* means for dogs to be “man’s best friend.”
In Isle of Dogs (now in theaters) — and warning, some spoilers from the film, which has received some backlash for cultural appropriation, BTW, follow — pups all across Megasaki, Japan are banished to Trash Island when a contagious canine flu breaks out that even threatens people’s safety. One such pup includes Spots (Liev Schreiber), a canine bodyguard who is assigned to protect a young orphan named Atari (Koyu Rankin) after Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) takes him in as his ward following the death of his parents. As the dog of the mayoral household, Spots is actually the first furry, four-legged friend to be cast away.
But Atari swiftly retaliates, transforming into “the little pilot” and heading over to Trash Island in search of his beloved Spots. Upon crash landing, he’s discovered by an alpha pack of five: Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Murray), and Duke (Goldblum). Chief, the stray of the group, is reluctant to help Atari, as he’s not exactly one for having a “master.” But he’s overruled by the others, who want to help the 12-year-old-boy because of the lengths he’s gone to to save Spots.
As one puts it, no one else had done that — only Atari made his way to Trash Island, fighting like hell to ensure his pet is found.
That’s true, that Atari is the only owner to head to the island, but we do see a number of other characters in Isle of Dogs fighting on behalf of pooches.
Kobayashi’s challenger in the mayoral race, the Science Party candidate, passionately defends dogs in a final campaign speech, asking, “Whatever happened to man’s best friend?” He also requests just a bit more time to cure the dog flu, because he’s *this* close to doing so; and he continues to pursue a cure, even when he loses the election.
And let’s not forget exchange student and activist/journalist Tracy Walker (Gerwig), who investigates political corruption that might be behind the dogs’ exile; Tracy’s not about to let dirty politicians do anymore harm to Japan’s dogs — especially her prized pup, Nutmeg (Johansson).
We see instance after instance of select but strong-minded characters fighting like their lives depend on it for pups everywhere. Why? Because, and this is how I saw it, dogs are not only as good and pure and perfect as the internet frequently says they are, they’re also dependable, caring, sweet, and brave — as we see most prominently in Chief, who grows to love Master Atari, so fully and so unconditionally, and goes to great lengths to help him find Spots.
I really identified with that, like I’m sure many dog owners and lovers did — because my golden retriever, Stella, is all those things to me.
Sorry to all my friends — and my two cats; yes, I’m a cat person, too — but there’s a reason why Stella and I share a dog bone necklace split into two, with “Best Friends” written across it. It’s Stella who is my very best friend, and the very best girl. Of course she’s good and pure and perfect, to the point where #wedontdeserveher and #wemustprotecther. But more than that, she’s been my biggest source of comfort and love throughout my whole young adult and adult(ish) life — right there with my (human) family.
Stella, a member of the family since 2005, was there when I switched schools just in time for high school, which wasn’t awkward at all; when I was applying to colleges, and fielding countless, stressful questions about what I planned to do with my life; when I would come home to visit during college, which happened pretty frequently, and she may or may not have had something to do with it; when I lived at home again, and attempted to, you know, do the adult thing.
She’s been there for all the times I’ve come home since I moved out on my own — and there have been many times, between holidays and taking advantage of my parents’ washer and dryer, as I’m local. And let’s not forget, she’s been there through myriad movie marathons, sleepovers with friends, new jobs and internships, boys and subsequent heartbreaks, health scares and worse, and much more in between.
Stella’s been there for just about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, and looking back, she makes a lot of those memories.
Because, they just wouldn’t be the same without her — a soothing presence during the bad, and a joyous one during the good.
Today, Stella is 12, going on 13. And she’s as comforting and loving as ever; you’d never guess that she’s sick, but she is, and it’s breaking my heart. But watching Isle of Dogs was just another reminder of how precious Stella is, and how lucky I am to have her — the Spots (and Chief) to my Atari, if you will. It makes me want to rush over, literally right now, to get down on the floor, flip her over, and give her one of those epic belly rubs she loves so much (and probably a snack or, like, 10).
Whatever happened to (wo)man’s best friend, you ask? She’s at my parents’ house, about 20 minutes from me — and I’m on my way to go see her. And I promise you, you’ll want to do the same with your own furry friends after watching Isle of Dogs, too.