Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion is an absolute overflow of his extremely unique filmmaking style and creative eye. In fact, it so carefully toes the line between effective and overdone, but it manages to work wonderfully. Isle of Dogs is a film full of detail, style and charm that showcases Anderson’s work marvellously. It is set in a dystopian near-future Japan, where the dangerous dog-flu has spread throughout the city of Megasaki. Cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi makes the decision to banish all dogs to a nearby Trash Island to protect the citizens from the disease. The first dog exiled is Spots, the dog of Atari, who is the orphaned nephew of the Mayor. Six months following the banishment of dogs, Atari steals a plane and flies to Trash Island in the hope of being reunited with his beloved dog.
Like any Wes Anderson movie, Isle of Dogs is an absolute visual delight. His careful choice of colour palettes, meticulous framing and the incredible character design adds such character and depth to the film. The shots give the illusion of a two-dimensional world, with, as in all of Anderson’s movies, everything being shot as if there is a line down the middle of the screen. Animated films suit Anderson down to the ground – his creative eye is given total freedom to completely sculpt, design and bring to life a world that would never exist without him. His off centre symmetry, that can be harder to perfect in live action, is stunning and incredibly satisfying to look at. Every frame is a visual treat, combining all aspects of these completely unique world to create a film that is so pleasant to get lost in.
The design of the characters is absolutely perfect, and this is seen in how imperfect Anderson makes them. Atari is cut and bruised quite graphically for the entire film, which is unusual for a child protagonist. Chief the dog is covered in gashes and bite marks, and is even missing parts of his ear from his endless scraps on the Isle of Dogs. Even all of the former house pets have an incredibly rugged, dirty appearance. The dogs are not typically cute, but instead scruffy and diseased. The world is not pretty, it is literally set mainly on an island filled with trash. This injects so much realism into a completely stop-motion animated film, bringing it up to a level where, even though the animation is truly excellent, it does not rely on simply being animated to do its job.
There is so much to talk about in Wes Anderson’s style, and it could have ended up detracting from the story. His filmmaking has found a definite niche and a film like this could so easily have been ‘too much’ of a good thing, but it without a doubt works. He finds the perfect balance between his auteur filmmaking and telling a humorous, entertaining and rather touching story. Isle of Dogs combines a story full of politics and authoritarianism, with a touching tale of the loyalty of dogs and the love between a child and his dog. The general plot is easy to follow – boy sets out on a quest to find beloved missing dog and is helped by five other dogs in doing so. In fact, this premise sounds almost like a children’s movie, but the reality is quite the opposite. There is nothing inappropriate about Isle of Dogs, but the constant flat, dry tone of the characters’ no matter the situation, the depth of the dialogue and the story, and the cleverness of the one-liners result in a film with too many levels to be defined a children’s film. The dogs’ dialogue and discussion is so human, from scout-leader-esque Rex (Edward Norton), to gossip-lover Duke (Jeff Goldblum), they all have traits that resemble our own, but their mannerisms are still canine. The result is an incredibly unique and immensely enjoyable animated experience.
There is so much going on in Isle of Dogs in terms of themes and the sheer size of the ensemble cast that it could have been a disjointed mess, but it somehow comes together seamlessly. Every aspect of the film feels right, every shot is a beautiful surprise, and there is no line spoken that is not clever, humorous, or unexpected. The quirkiness of this film may not be to everyone’s taste but for fans of Wes Anderson (as I am, if you cannot already tell) it is an absolutely wonderful display of his filmmaking talents, demonstrated marvellously in both story and style.
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balahan, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, & Scarlett Johansson
Runtime: 101 minutes
Ciara Dillon – Film Editor