By Megan Bianco
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the filmmaker’s return to stop-motion animation since Fantastic Mr. Fox (2008), and it has been getting all kinds of feedback. Feedback about how impressive the animation effects are, feedback over the clever dialogue written for the dogs, feedback on the big names Anderson once again got for his voices, as well as feedback that the indie hitmaker’s portrayal of Japan is possibly problematic.
There have already been multiple commentaries over the divisive culture choice for the film, so I’m going to probe a completely different theme that comes and goes every so often in cinema: why are cats usually portrayed as evil as opposed to dogs?
For every Rin-Tin-Tin there is a Lucifer from Cinderella (1950), for every Lassie there’s a Shere Khan, and for every Air Bud a Mr. Bigglesworth from Austin Powers (a direct reference to Ernst Blofeld’s cat in You Only Live Twice (1967)). I remember when I was a kid, there was that silly family comedy Cats & Dogs (2001) in which of course the dogs—voiced by Tobey Maguire and Alec Baldwin—were the good guys and the cats—Sean Hayes and Jon Lovitz—were the villains.
The cats in Isle of Dogs aren’t really villainous, but the real antagonists of the film appear to have a bias towards them and own a house cat. But where did this cliché come from? I’ve lived with both cats and dogs throughout my life and have gone through phases where I prefer one species over the other.
Well, to amusingly quote Harry Plinkett from Red Letter Media: “Cats are f***ing creepy. Dogs can be trained. Cats won’t give you the time of day. In fact the only sort of video you can make with them is something like Jingle Cats. And even then, they just sit there bored and looking at you like you’re an idiot for putting them in a video like this.”
Plinkett has a point there. I remember reading that the Coen brothers vowed to never work with a cat as a lead animal again after Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) because it was such a hassle. So while I do wish there were more feline protagonists a la Oliver & Company (1988), maybe I’ll just have to sit back and enjoy the companionship of my own, real cat. And let the fictional ones continue supplying the menace.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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