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A Ranking of All the Dogs in ‘Isle of Dogs’

Spoiler alert: They were all very good boys and girls

Fox Searchlight/Ringer illustration

There are a lot of aspects of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs that we could talk about. For example, we could talk about the technically magnificent use of stop-motion animation. We could talk about the film’s politics—its anti-dog, science-hating, megalomaniacal villain and its possible (read: definite) real-world applications. We could talk about the film’s use of language and the way much of its dialogue is left in untranslated Japanese (luckily for American viewers, many puppy-related words, such as “petto,” “bisuketto,” and “fetchi” happen to be loaned from English). We could talk about the fact Wes Anderson is famous for killing dogs in his movies, portraying them as helpless victims of the idiocy of humans, and how here, in Isle of Dogs, he has chosen to give dogs the power. We could talk about the fact Yoko Ono plays a character named Yoko Ono. We could talk about how the silly Japanese people are saved by an excitable white foreign exchange student.

But no, we’re not going to talk about any of that stuff. I’m not a movie expert. Go read some of my very good colleagues for the appropriate movie analysis. I am a dog expert, and this is a movie that features a variety of good dogs. (Isle of Dogs sounds like “I love dogs”—get it?) Here is a ranking of the film’s canine characters, all of whom are good. (Warning: There are mild dog-related spoilers below.)

1A. Spots (Liev Schreiber)

Screenshots via Fox Searchlight

Spots is an outrageously good dog. A short-haired Oceanic speckle-eared sport hound, Spots has a dalmatian-esque coat, a pink nose, and the bluest eyes in the world—eyes which, as we learn, are capable of producing actual tears when Spots is overcome with love.

Spots’s relationship with his master, Atari, drives the film’s plot. He used to be the bodyguard for Atari, the orphaned nephew of the evil, cat-loving mayor. He is highly trained, and, as it is eventually revealed, slightly bionic, but what makes him an excellent bodyguard is that he is an excellent dog, and therefore is incapable of keeping his professional relationship with his master strictly professional. “I’m not supposed to be his friend,” Spots admits, “but I love him very much.”

But the mayor decides to exile every dog to nearby Trash Island—you get most of what you need to know about Trash Island from the name. When the decree is stamped, Spots is the first ordered to go, to make him an example. He sits quietly in his cage, awaiting his next order as he is shipped off to die on an island of garbage. Atari is the only master who makes an effort to go to Trash Island to rescue his beloved pet—and rightfully so, as Spots is a fantastic dog.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1B. Oracle (Tilda Swinton)

I want to congratulate whoever decided to have Tilda Swinton voice a pug. It is delightful to hear such a dignified voice boom from such a doofy dog. I recommend this “cast interviews” video, in which the words of the actors are spoken by their animated characters. Swinton sagely intones “the heart of a dog is a bottomless thing,” at which point the pug acts like a pug.

Oracle is the only small dog in the film—one would imagine that, forced to fight for survival on Trash Island, the chihuahuas and shih tzus did not last very long. However, she has gained the reverence of her fellow pups through her ability to see the future—an ability that, unbeknownst to the other dogs, stems entirely from the fact she knows how to watch television. She spends most of her time watching game shows as the life-or-death plot of the film carries on around her.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1C. Unnamed Puppies

Without spoiling the plot, I’d like to let you know that at some point during the movie, a litter of perfect, beautiful puppies is born. They don’t speak, or really do anything beside nurse from their mother, but being able to speak or do things has never been part of the grading criteria for puppies.

Rating: Very Good Dogs

1D. Duke (Jeff Goldblum)

Duke is a husky-like dog, part of a five-strong pack of alpha males that helps Atari find Spots. He is perpetually aware of various “rumors” that he’s heard from other dogs that help guide the pack safely on its journey.

Jeff Goldblum is one of the world’s best people, but even great people are worse than dogs. However, a husky that has the personality and voice of Jeff Goldblum is a particularly great dog.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1E. Gondo (Harvey Keitel)

Gondo is introduced as the fearsome leader of a pack of cannibal dogs; with huge fangs and a Two-Face vibe (one half of his face has fur and a blue eye, the other half is bare skin with a red eye), it’s easy to believe. But when accused of cannibalism, Gondo breaks down, revealing that his pack turned to cannibalism only once, and that the dog they ate, Fuzzball, was comatose. The pack only ate Fuzzball to survive and to put him out of his misery. Gondo howls plaintively, which means somewhere on earth, there is probably footage of Harvey Keitel standing at a microphone and howling plaintively.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1F. Igor (Roman Coppola)

Igor has no speaking lines; he is the leader of a rival pack of white dogs that gets into a scrap with the main pack early in the film. In the heat of the fight, his right ear is ripped off of his head by Chief, the best fighter of the bunch. “Sheesh, Igor,” one of the white dogs says when the fight is done, “I think he chewed your ear off!” Igor looks up at the bloody corner of his head where he used to have an ear, shrugs, and disappears, never to be seen again.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1G. The Dog Who Tells Igor His Ear Is Missing

I mean, this is just being a really good friend.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1H. Boss (Bill Murray)

Boss, another member of the pack, was the mascot for a local baseball team. This couldn’t have been a tough role for Bill Murray to play, considering he himself is the mascot for a local baseball team.

Even years after being exiled to the garbage island, Boss keeps his baseball uniform on. He’s fighting for survival each day, but still proudly tells those who will listen about the fact the Dragons were undefeated. (The “undefeated” thing is where the parallels between Boss’s fandom and Murray’s Cubs fandom end.)

1K. Chief (Bryan Cranston)

The puppy protagonist, Chief is also a short-haired Oceanic speckle-eared sport hound—“it’s not a rare breed,” he tells Atari. Chief has spent most of his life as a stray, and is initially deeply distrustful of all humans. “I bite,” he warns anybody who gets close to him. While all the other dogs in the main pack miss their lives as pets, Chief tells them their lives are more fulfilling without masters. “Stop licking your wounds!” he tells Duke, as Duke literally licks his wounds.

But when given a little bit of affection, Chief absolutely melts. He tries to resist how much he is enjoying his relationship with humans—“I’m telling you, I don’t fetch,” he says while fetching a stick, “I’m not doing this because you commanded me to”—but eventually acquiesces to the fact a dog-human relationship can be very beneficial.

Alternate title for a movie about Bryan Cranston portraying a vicious dog that learns to love humans: Breaking Good Boy.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1L. Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson)

Bred as a show dog—although, in her words, “show dog is not my identity”—Nutmeg has learned to fend for herself, although she still maintains her glamour: She is the only dog on Trash Island whose coat has not acquired a thick layer of filth. She is capable of doing complex tricks with bowling pins, although, sadly, there are no bowling pins on Trash Island with which she could demonstrate her talents.

One big missed opportunity here: Making a movie set in Japan with Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray that doesn’t end with one puppy cryptically whispering something into the other’s flopped ear.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1M: A Completely Blue Dog

At one point, the dogs romp through an abandoned factory where testing was done on dogs, which left the pups with deformities—some have rigging on their heads, others have metal legs. One in the background is completely blue. I would like to meet a completely blue dog!

Rating: Very Good Dog

1N. Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham)

Oracle’s companion, Jupiter is a large, wise dog who knows the history of the island. He looks like a mastiff of some sort, but carries a booze barrel around his neck like a St. Bernard. (It is filled with turpentine brandy, which apparently does not have any adverse effects on dogs.) While I appreciate the boozehound, I am a bit confused by the premise of a historian dog—my dog forgets who I am if I put on a winter jacket or suit.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1O. Rex (Edward Norton)

Rex is not the leader of the pack—the group is a democratic body, and all decisions are made via vote—but Rex is typically the one who brings issues up to a vote. He is the most thoughtful of the dogs—before fighting Igor’s gang, he urges the dogs to actually inspect the bag of garbage they were about to fight over, just in case the contents weren’t worth fighting over. (They were.) But Rex yearns for his old home—he is, as he describes himself, an indoor dog.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1P: King (Bob Balaban)

A reddish dog with a big mustache, perhaps some type of large terrier, King used to be the spokesdog for Doggy Chop dog food. (It is unclear whether or not King actually spoke in his role as spokesdog, since it is never quite clear whether or not humans can actually hear dogs talk. The film seems to flop back and forth on this issue, à la Family Guy, depending on whether it’s convenient or funny to have the dogs be heard.) Rex’s favorite food was Doggy Chop, but King, a dog celebrity, actually had a more selective palate—he recalls his favorite food being a cut of Kobe beef he was fed each year on his birthday.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1P. Peppermint (Kara Hayward)

Peppermint is a female dog with pink facial markings who gives birth to the litter of puppies. Suffice it to say, Isle of Dogs does not pass the Puppy Bechdel Test—there are only three female dogs; Peppermint appears on screen once before giving birth, and I don’t think she talks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Nutmeg’s mating history and potential interest in mating are brought up repeatedly when she is on screen. Good girls are good boys too!

Rating: Very Good Dog

1Q: Scrap (Fisher Stevens)

Scrap is shown in a flashback, bothering Spots while Spots is stuck in a cage. He warns Spots about the cannibal dogs who, as it turns out, are not cannibals. He is only on screen for one scene and doesn’t really have any positive or negative attributes.

Rating: Very Good Dog

1R: Mute Poodle (Anjelica Huston)

Scrolling through IMDb, I noticed that frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Anjelica Huston was listed as “Mute Poodle.” I feel like this is some sort of inside joke. I didn’t see which dog this might have been—she was, after all, mute—and I feel bad, because I really tried to pay attention to all the dogs.

Rating: Presumably Good Dog

2. The Robot Dogs

The evil mayor’s plan involves the introduction of thousands of robotic dogs made by a relative’s robotics company. They are meant as pets, but also meant to serve the city’s police force, and are critical to the mayor’s plan to track down and eliminate real dogs. But when Atari seizes the controls, it turns out they are also capable of performing various good dog tasks, like rolling over and giving paw handshakes.

I am skeptical of the robot dogs, because they are efficient killing machines with no capability for love. Then again, they are dogs!

Rating: OK Dogs