REVIEW: ‘Isle of Dogs’ has a Christ-centered lesson … if we’re listening

May 4th, 2018 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Isle of Dogs’ has a Christ-centered lesson … if we’re listening

Atari is a pensive, 12-year-old dog-loving boy living in a city where dogs are banned.

It hasn’t always been this way, though.

Long ago, the people of Megasaki City loved dogs. Then a virus spread through the dog population, sparking a fear that it might jump to humans. It even led the authoritarian mayor to ban all dogs to “Trash Island,” even though scientists were closing in on a cure.

Among the expelled dogs was Atari’s beloved canine, Spots, who was given to him when the mayor -- Atari’s uncle – adopted the boy.

But Atari isn’t giving up. He steals a small plane and flies to Trash Island in hopes of finding Spots. Then his plane crashes on the island. Then the mayor sends out a search party. Then the mayor threatens to kill all dogs. Can Atari change the mayor’s view of canines before the government wipes them out?

It’s all part of director Wes Anderson’s film Isle of Dogs (PG-13), a thought-provoking, stop-action movie that is aimed more toward adults than children. It stars newcomer Koyu Rankin as Atari and Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Spots, as well as an all-star cast as the other dogs: Bill Murray as Boss, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, Bryan Cranston as Chief, and Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers ahead!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. The violence is cartoonish and mostly played for laughs. Dogs fight for food in a humorous scene. Atari’s plane crashes, and one of the dogs discusses whether they should eat him. Dogs fight humans in a dust cloud reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon. A helicopter crashes, presumably killing the occupants. We see a fish and crab – each alive – cut up for a meal. Four dogs accidentally enter an incinerator. We also see a graphic (albeit cartoonish) operation.

We hear discussion of cannibal dogs. Dogs talk about a canine who committed suicide. We see the bones of a dog who presumably starved to death in a cage.   

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. The mayor’s backside is seen as he exits a hot tub. The dogs discuss a dog being “in heat” and of dogs mating. Nutmeg, in a conversation with a male dog, talks about “tricks” she can perform. She’s referencing dog show tricks, although it could have a double meaning. In another scene, she says, “I wouldn’t bring puppies into this world.”

Coarse Language

Minimal. D—n (2), SOB (1).

Other Positive Elements

Students rise up to oppose the “Anti-Dog” elements within the government. Later in the film, a member of the Anti-Dog wing performs a heroic action for Atari. We also see a mean dog turn nice.  

Life Lessons

Atari and other characters deliver lessons on self-sacrifice, perseverance and unconditional love. 

Worldview

Isle of Dogs is a dog movie that’s not really about dogs. Sure, if you say “Isle of Dogs” fast enough, it sounds like “I love dogs” – and that’s intentional -- but the film is rich in symbolism aimed directly at humans, and specifically, the way humanity treats classes of people. But which classes of people? Which races? Which nationalities? Anderson, the director, doesn’t say.

Some will see parallels to 2018 politics, but Anderson began working on the film during the previous presidential administration. It’s just as easy to apply the film’s themes to the treatment of Jews in World War II or to African Americans in 1950s America. The mayor even sets up “displacement camps” for the dogs.  

Besides, it shouldn’t matter which class of people the film is referencing, because no class should be treated that way. Every person bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and every person should be loved just as Jesus loved us (John 13:34). Our goal should be that of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

What Works

The use of stop action for an adult movie.

The humor and emotion. Anderson masterfully balances them.

What Doesn’t

Not applicable.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you see parallels to history or modern-day politics? If so, where?  
  2. What does Scripture say about racism? About treating one another?
  3. Do you like the use of stop-action films to convey adult messages? Why or why not?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.