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The ‘Isle of Dogs’ Exit Survey

Is Tilda Swinton the right person to voice a pug? Where does the movie rank among Wes Anderson’s films? The Ringer staff answered those questions and more (sometimes in the form of a haiku).

Fox Searchlight/Ringer illustration

Narrator: This weekend, the detail-oriented master of quirk and kitsch Wes Anderson released his latest film, Isle of Dogs, about a group of abandoned canines and the boy who lands on their island in search of his lost pet. After watching the film, the staff of the website The Ringer filled out a survey to gauge their thoughts, feelings, and abilities to compose haiku.

1. What is your tweet-length review of Isle of Dogs?

Ben Lindbergh:

Amanda Dobbins: I’m not enough of a dog person for this.

Donnie Kwak: Stuff White People Like, Japan Edition.

Andrew Gruttadaro: Could’ve used more dogs, tbh.

Miles Surrey: Not bad — for anti-feline propaganda!

Justin Charity: Everything a Miyazaki movie is, Isle of Dogs is not.

Sean Fennessey: Dogs are always good. Breezy, beautifully rendered disquisitions on cultural otherness told with archaic animation techniques are not always so good. It’s OK to feel conflicted.

2. What was the best moment of the movie?

Gruttadaro: My favorite dog-related moment was anytime a dog sneezed; my favorite non-dog-related moment was the sashimi-making scene. I would watch a movie called Isle of Sashimi that was just 90 minutes of that.

Fennessey: The first time we see a dogfight quickly devolve in a fluffy cloud of ecstatic cotton and canine limbs.

Lindbergh: When Chief played fetch. No, your eyes welled up with Wes Anderson stop-motion tears.

Surrey: The inevitable bonding between human boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) and good boy Chief (Bryan Cranston) was predictably adorable. Who else audibly “aww”-ed in the theater when Atari gave him a hug, or when Chief fetched the stick?

Charity: The sashimi scene — it’s a potent and gorgeous bit of animation backed by one of the composer Alexandre Desplat’s most mischievous musical riffs on the movie’s main theme.

Dobbins: The poison sashimi sequence, which was a mesmerizing, lovingly executed mini-movie all its own, and which helped me understand what the rest of the film was going for.

Kwak: When Chief gets assiduously scrubbed and groomed by Atari and comes out looking like a new dog. I love when movie vagabonds get makeovers. And also, when Spots and Chief finally get injected with the snout fever antidote. All those free-floating germs were starting to make me feel sick.

Fox Searchlight

3. What was your least favorite part of the film?

Charity: The first 20 minutes, which includes three different phases of expository prologue. Honestly, there is just way too much talking in this movie. It’s such a beautiful movie, but the vast, sparse landscapes are all undermined by Anderson’s refusal to let a peaceful moment pass without the narrator, or else the dogs, barking incessantly about the plot.

Lindbergh: Too much Major-Domo, and not enough Nutmeg, who could have shed her show-dog identity if she’d helped Atari too.

Gruttadaro: All of the parts that made me feel complicit in encouraging Asian stereotypes?

Kwak: The sarcastic voice in my ear bellowing, “Haha those inscrutable Japanese!!!” after every sight gag.

Dobbins: As a person who does not speak Japanese, I found the lack of English translation flattening — which is a problem for the cultural balance that this movie is attempting, and also because I didn’t really care about the central boy-dog relationship. (Again, not a dog enthusiast, sorry.)

Fennessey: I think there’s a case for excising the Tracy character voiced by Greta Gerwig completely from the film.

Surrey: That it took me literal months to realize the movie’s title is a pun. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, say “Isle of Dogs” out loud, and then bang your head against a wall.)

4. Which dog in Isle of Dogs are you, and why?

Fennessey: I feel a bit haughty, like Nutmeg.

Gruttadaro: I am Boss, because I also continue to wear the jerseys of sports teams that have long abandoned me.

Kwak: I’ll be Boss, because I love his pinstriped uniform. Honestly would rather be a cat, though.

Lindbergh: Oracle. I also spend a lot of time watching TV while other people are trying to save the world.

Dobbins: Tilda as the TV-seer pug. I like small, sassy dogs; I like TV; I like Tilda.

Fox Searchlight

Surrey: I am Duke (Jeff Goldblum), because I, too, love gossip.

Charity: I am Jeff Goldblum: smart, observant, but irrelevant.

5. What was the most Wes Anderson moment in the movie?

Gruttadaro: When the white person saved everyone.

Surrey: The overhead shot of the chef preparing sashimi was perfectly Andersonian — and quite hypnotic. I had a brief pining for sushi, until the guy added poison to it.

Lindbergh: The sashimi assembly and kidney transplant were the most obviously Andersonesque interludes, but only Anderson could create a mushroom cloud and a plane crash cute enough to make moviegoers laugh in delight.

Fennessey: It wasn’t so much a single shot or moment, but every horizontally rolling segment, symmetrically composed to please an organized mind. I felt like I was seated on a conveyor belt inside a dollhouse. (This is a compliment.)

Charity: I don’t know; I don’t watch Wes Anderson movies.

Fox Searchlight

6. Who was the MVVA (Most Valuable Voice Actor)?

Lindbergh: Cranston, who along with Liev Schreiber brought a level of vulnerability and convincing devotion to a movie that might otherwise have lacked nonvisual life. “I don’t know why I bite” moved me more than anything in Annihilation.

Kwak: Everyone was equally great with the exception of the vocal fry of Greta Gerwig. Annoying voice, unnecessary character.

Surrey: Gotta give it to Cranston as Chief, with the caveat that his role had the most meat on its bones. And he, ahem, chewed it up.

Charity: Greta Gerwig as Tracy. The character is the subject of some critical pushback for supposedly embodying “white savior” tropes, since she’s the radical actor who rallies the native Megasaki City residents to save the dogs. That said, I should note that Tracy is in fact a minor anime archetype — the Loud, Blond, American Transfer Student. Gerwig plays her petulance well.

Gruttadaro: She didn’t have many lines, but Tilda Swinton nailed all of hers as the pug named Oracle. Low volume, high efficiency.

Fennessey: Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, who I wish did more things. Fun fact: Three of Norton’s past four roles have been voice work in animated movies — 2016’s The Guardian Brothers (a Chinese production) and Sausage Party, and now Anderson’s latest. Less fun fact: Norton hasn’t appeared as the lead in a movie since 2010’s little-seen Stone. Motherless Brooklyn can’t come soon enough.

Dobbins: At some point during the dog pack stuff, Chief (Cranston) tells his pals that he was very briefly adopted. They all express simultaneous surprise, and then Boss (Bill Murray) very softly adds, “Tell us about that.” It is the funniest, and also the most emotional, line of the whole movie.

7. What do you think the cats were up to in Isle of Dogs?

Kwak: Being cool and unbothered, as per usual.

Gruttadaro: Probably being extremely judgmental of their owners, plotting their deaths, etc.

Surrey: According to Anderson, probably complicit in what nearly became doggy genocide. In reality, they were probably asleep and minding their own business, flawless creatures that they are. You don’t need to make cats the villains in your love letter to dogs!

Does my dearest Puma look like he has a single mean bone in his body? No, he likes to eat, sleep, and poop like the best of them.

Miles Surrey

Fennessey: Being terrible, as all cats are.

Lindbergh: You heard the rumor, right? While everyone in Megasaki City was worrying about dog flu crossing the species barrier, their cats were infecting them with toxoplasmosis.

8. Where does Isle of Dogs rank among Wes Anderson films?

Gruttadaro: I didn’t realize this until I just now looked through Anderson’s filmography but: All the way at the bottom!

Surrey: Unlike approximately 90 percent of Brooklyn, I am not all that crazy about Anderson. (Don’t tell my roommate, who believes he is the messiah.) But I think Anderson’s whimsical oeuvre is best served in his gorgeous stop-motion films, so Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox are my standouts.

Fennessey: Sliding comfortably into the eighth spot, just ahead of The Darjeeling Limited.

Dobbins: Better than The Darjeeling Limited? But that’s about it. I don’t know, I wasn’t bored for a second, and I deeply admire the detail of his mind and his worlds — but Anderson already does such good cartoon versions of real humans. I’m not sure I needed another layer here?

Lindbergh: I admire the movie’s ability to blend politics and twee, but I’m one of the weirdos who loves The Life Aquatic, so this was my second-favorite Wes Anderson work in which a dog gets abandoned on an island.

9. Please compose your own dog-related haiku.

Lindbergh:

It’s safe to see it
because no dogs die on screen
To my great relief

Surrey:

Good dogs while filming
And still cats get a bad rap?
How come, Anderson?

Kwak: Mine aren’t dog-related, but here goes:

Would the Japanese
Even have an island where
They discarded trash

***

Will anyone make
A stop-motion love letter
About Korea

Gruttadaro:

Dogs good, movie fine
People should adopt more strays
Let’s get sashimi?

Fennessey:

All dogs are quite good
While cats lack something special
Which is, simply, joy