How Youth Activism Underscores 'Isle of Dogs'

Isle of Dogs snapshot for tease only.

After tickling our funny bones with the quirky and delightful stop-motion feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox" in 2009, American director Wes Anderson is returning to the genre later this month with "Isle of Dogs."

Featuring an all-star cast of voices that includes actors like Bill Murray, Brian Cranston, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, the film is set in a dystopian future Japan where dogs have been banished to a remote island due to fears over something called "canine flu." When a teen named Atari crash-lands on the island in search of his lost pup Spots, the dogs all team up to help him find his friend. Back on the mainland, a youth-driven movement rises up to overturn the anti-canine agenda, expose its propaganda, and restore the bond of man's best friend.

In development for some six years, Anderson says his initial inspiration for the story of one group picking on another came from the history pages of 20th-century Europe. "But while we were making the script and while we were making the movie, the world changed so much," he said after a screening earlier this month. "There were big sweeping things that happened."

Instead, he added, the themes within "Isle of Dogs" are unintentionally reflective of our day-to-day news cycle.

"What we were intending to take from the history pages was always on the front page of the newspaper," he said, "We were (thinking), 'Is our movie about Australia? Is our movie about what's happening in the Middle East?' We were seeing it like an audience would, because where it was coming from was the past."

Director Wes Anderson's new film 'Isle of Dogs' tells the story of quarantined pups banished to a remote island –– and the kids who decide to rescue them.
Director Wes Anderson's new film 'Isle of Dogs' tells the story of quarantined pups banished to a remote island –– and the kids who decide to rescue them. (Photo: Isle of Dogs)

In an interview with USA Today, story collaborator Jason Schwartzman says the movie's political aspects, while coincidental, align very closely with today's movements.

"Basically, we have all these adults who are not listening to their hearts or conscience, and no one is seeing the great corruption happening," he said. "That led us to the younger people, who have to see through the BS. Their minds are more agile. And they have a say."

That the film is launching a day before the youth-driven March for Our Lives takes place on streets around America is just another happy coincidence that Schwartzman is proud to see unfolding.

"I’m electrified, moved and fired up when I see people thinking about and doing right — opening their hearts and minds," he says. "When people start to consider a world that’s bigger than themselves, that’s very moving. It puts something in your heart so when it pumps, it pumps a little differently."

Regardless of what political lens you view "Isle of Dogs" through, it's clear from the critical accolades that the simple "boy and his dog" plot at the center of the film will pull at the heartstrings. Presently, the movie holds a 93% rating on RottenTomatoes, with deep scratches behind the ears for its beautiful visuals, engaging cast and inspiring message.

"It feels, more than anything," writes critic Hannah Woodhead, "like a cinematic love letter — to Japan, to dogs, and to finding your pack, wherever they might be."