Isle of Dogs is set in a futuristic version of Japan, where a man-made ‘canine flu’ ravages the dog population and the terrified human community is brainwashed into banishing their beloved pets to the wasteland of Trash Island. To set an example for his people, Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura) sends Spots (Liev Schreiber), a guard dog from his own household, to the island first.
A few months later the mayor’s nephew and ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), steals a small plane to fly to the island, find his best friend Spots and bring him home. He crash-lands on the island and, although he’s injured, he’s still determined to rescue Spots. He’s aided by a gang of dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), Chief (Bryan Cranston) and King (Bob Balaban). The dogs are inspired by his courage and loyalty and vow to help him, no matter what consequences they might face. While they search for Spots, Chief slowly starts to bond with Atari, and the mayor uses his nephew’s disappearance to incite more hatred of and violence towards the dogs.
Meanwhile, a foreign exchange student, Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), launches a personal investigation into political corruption and a government conspiracy to annihilate the entire canine population. It takes cooperation and teamwork from unlikely allies to uncover the truth, expose the corruption and bring the dogs safely back home.
Cruelty to animals; experimenting on animals; the attempted mass killing of dogs; death of parents; suicide (briefly touched on).
Isle of Dogs contains frequent violence. For example:
- There are many fights involving both dogs and humans. These are often portrayed as a wild ball of chaos, with legs, paws and fists flying out.
- A speaker has things thrown at him, and he’s shown with blood and cuts.
- There is some blood and gore. For example, when a dog’s ear is bitten off, blood spurts out and the severed ear lies on the ground. Another dog kicks it away in disgust.
- Men come for Atari. They blindfold and restrain him, and try to take him into a waiting aircraft. The dogs fight the men. Chief fights a robot dog and is badly injured but wins. Atari is able to escape.
- There are rumours of a cannibalistic tribe of dogs who’ll do anything to survive.
- Atari pulls a bit of metal out of his head and a spurt of blood is seen. There’s still metal lodged in his skull, but it doesn’t seem to bother him until later in the movie.
- One dog describes how another dog committed suicide by hanging himself from his leash.
- Spots has a military-issue exploding tooth that fires exploding bullets. He uses these twice.
- A sushi chef chops and slices live fish. This is creepy and disturbing.
- A human character is poisoned. His dead body is shown in the mortuary, eyes bulging from their sockets.
- Three dogs escape a chopping, crushing and incinerating machine.
- Some of the dogs locked in cages on Trash Island can’t escape, and a scene shows their skeletons.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Isle of Dogs has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:
- Most dogs on Trash Island have many scars and are matted and filthy.
- There is a very creepy and evil man who encourages the mayor to annihilate all the dogs. He has a monster-like face and is often angry or yelling.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Isle of Dogs has some scenes that could scare or disturb children aged 5-8 years. For example:
- A news broadcast explains how Atari’s parents are killed in a train crash and the badly injured boy is sent to live in the home of his uncle.
- Many dogs are shown with scars, wires or tubes attached to their bodies. This is because they spent time at a horrific animal testing facility that was once located on Trash Island.
- Atari’s new canine friends are constantly under threat from the Kobayashi regime’s determination to kill all the dogs on Trash Island.
Younger children in this age group might be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above.
There is nothing in Isle of Dogs that’s likely to disturb children aged over 13 years.
Isle of Dogs has some sexual references. For example:
- A female dog called Nutmeg, who used to be a show dog, is repeatedly accused of mating with Felix. Characters say things like ‘She made it with Felix’.
- One dog sighs and says that ‘All the dogs I like are never in heat’.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Isle of Dogs shows some use of substances. For example, one scene shows characters drinking in a bar.
Nudity and sexual activity
Isle of Dogs has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- The mayor’s naked bottom is seen as he gets out of a bath.
- Sumo wrestlers tussle on a mat in traditional costumes.
Nothing of concern
Isle of Dogs has some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animation set in Japan. The animation can be beautiful, but the background is purposefully ugly and depressing. The movie is broken into parts and it might be difficult for younger viewers to follow. Most of the Japanese spoken in this movie isn’t translated, although you can get a general idea of what’s being said. The dogs, however, speak in English.
This movie is suitable for some pre-teens, young teenagers and older viewers. Older children and their parents are likely to enjoy this movie, which has had many favourable reviews. But its violence and themes make it too scary for younger children. We also recommend parental guidance for children aged 10-13 years.
The main messages from this movie are about standing up for what’s right, even if you’re the only one standing. The movie is also about fighting for what you believe in, even when winning seems impossible, and never giving up, no matter how hopeless your situation might seem.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include loyalty, love, friendship, and willingness to stand up for the downtrodden and fight against corruption.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about:
- political corruption and how it can tear a family, community or country apart
- animal culling and how this still happens all over the world and affects the environment
- animal testing and its terrible effects.