REVIEW FOR HUMANS:
Co-writer & director Wes Anderson’s films are nothing if not a omnibus of art direction, down to each exacting detail. It’s no surprise that his interests would eventually lead him to animation, and specifically stop-motion animation, so that he can finally build his dioramas and dollhouses without the interference of real people and real scale. He’s done this before, of course, with the 2009 feature Fantastic Mr. Fox. And yet, that film always felt like a collaboration, a partnership between Anderson’s Mod-influenced style and Fox book author Roald Dahl’s all-ages fable. Here, with Isle Of Dogs, Anderson has made his first (certainly not his last) stop-motion movie that feels more wholly his own.
Working from a story created by himself, frequent collaborators Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, and Japanese performer Kunichi Nomura (who starred in Anderson’s last effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014), Anderson tells a (wait for it) shaggy dog story about a Japanese city overrun by sick canines, pushed by a corrupt political cat-loving party into voting to exile all the dogs to “trash island”, a nearby offshore landfill. Six months after this decree, a lone 12 year old boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a small plane and crash lands on the island, looking for his lost dog. From there, the quest to find Spots begins, with a pack of “mean Alpha dogs” (their words, not necessarily true) joining Atari as they journey across the island, dodging evil robot dogs and a government conspiracy while redefining the relationship between man and his best friend. It’s a lot of plot—there are side characters and subplots and revisionist mythology galore, but the film always feels light & approachable.
The real star of the show, as with Fox, is the jaw droppingly good stop motion animation, resulting in a film that is perhaps Anderson’s most visually rich, and that’s saying a lot. It’s not just the expressiveness of the figures (I’ve never seen so many tearful puppets), but the composition of the shots. At times, it’s easy to forget you’re watching an animated film, so free does the camerawork seem. Of course, helping the clay come to life is a murderer’s row of voice talent, mostly coming from the Anderson repertory (hello, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum) but with some most welcome new voices as well (including Liev Schreiber, Bryan Cranston and Greta Gerwig). The cast alone means that Isle will never confuse anyone into thinking it’s just another run of the mill talking animal movie.
And another point in its plus column: it’s deeply, tonally weird. Anderson’s work has always been infused with wistful melancholy, but his recent films have contained some pretty shocking and unflinching moments of violence as well, and Isle surprisingly is no different (within reason: it’s still PG-13). This isn’t some “animation for adults”, to be sure, but it feels refreshingly all-ages in a way that most films using that label tend to not. As such, there are some real emotional stakes here, and a good bit of subtext, with the relationship between faithful beasts of burden and their neglectful masters examined from the former’s perspective. If you happen to find yourself tearful along with some of the puppets, that’s no mistake.
There is a lingering question hanging over the film, and it’s one that, frankly, could be applied to roughly a third of Anderson’s work: that of appropriation. It’s not entirely justified as to why this story takes place in Japan, only that it’s cool that it does, as Anderson homages the films of some of his heroes such as Kurosawa, Seijun Suzuki and old Toho monster movies. It’s him using a foreign setting as decoration in much the same way as he did in The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and even Grand Budapest Hotel, to a degree. The question is worth asking, the discussion worth having, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Anderson intends his movie as a celebration of Japanese culture, rather than a mocking (or a “can you believe this?” curiosity). The answer is up to you, of course. If you feel as I do, then I heartily recommend catching this movie, especially if you’re a dog lover. I mean, I’m allergic to the 'lil guys and I walked out of the theater wanting to adopt one! Such is the power of the eternal bond between humans and small cute furry things.
THE BELOW IS A REVIEW FOR DOGS ONLY
Woof! Woof woof bark. Gruff. Woof woof! Woof.
REVIEW FOR HUMANS: