In the future, an outbreak of canine flu leads the mayor of a Japanese city to banish all dogs to an island that’s a garbage dump. The outcasts must soon embark on an epic journey when a 12-year-old boy arrives on the island to find his beloved pet.
Wes Anderson is one of those directors who an audience either clicks with, or seems repelled by. There’s an unashamed whimsy in the themes, the visual aesthetic and the rhythms of his films that are unmistakably, cinematically his own. From Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel we’ve seen comedic quirk filtered through his scrappy, underdog characters who learn valuable life lessons in order to achieve their ultimate happy-sadness. Wes Anderson’s films are unlikely to shock or surprise you but the journey is so worthwhile it doesn’t rightly matter. His filmmaking process and tonal language are (to some), warm, endearing and dependable. Isle of Dogs is no exception.
As with 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson works once again within the medium of stop-motion animation, which is probably for the best considering the limitations of actual dog actors. Maintaining the same visual language utilised so effectively in his previous works, Isle of Dogs has a much harsher, more lived-in feel than the autumnal glow and kitsch of his Roald Dahl adaptation. The plight of the dogs and their human companions is touching and the voice performances from the ensemble are perfectly in-keeping with Anderson’s style. It’s no surprise that the animation itself is nothing short of captivating.
Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum portray the mangy pack at the heart of the story. Koyu Rankin voices the strong willed and resourceful Atari Kobayashi, the young boy in search for his beloved guard dog, Spot. The use of language to denote the shift between dogs and humans talking is handled in an interesting way. There’s a conversation to be had regarding the director’s “cultural tourism”, and once again Anderson delivers a feature in which the female characters are bit players only but after nine films it would seem that this latter issue is characteristically ingrained within the filmmaker’s narrative scope.
Isle of Dogs will not be the film that ingratiates itself with Wes Anderson’s naysayers. It has already sparked conversations amongst even some of his most ardent fans. While I enjoyed the journey, I would say that I was left a little unsatisfied by the conclusion. This isn’t Moonrise Kingdom or Grand Budapest. It’s a wonderfully crafted and entertaining animated feature but not what I’d consider a top-tier Wes Anderson film. That aside, it’s most definitely the best stop-motion picture you’re likely to see until the next Laika Studios offering!
Isle of Dogs is out now.
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