By Jack Dignan
There’s a distinct style in the way Wes Anderson works that’s recognisable by film fans everywhere. Whether it’s his perfectly symmetrical framing, unique method of storytelling or odd sense of humour, they all resonate deeply with audiences. Then 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox came along and proved his style isn’t defined by live action. It works just as, if not more effective in the realm of animation, and his latest, Isle of Dogs, solidified that fact. This is one you’re certainly not going to want to miss.
Set in the not too distant future, canine population has become overbearing, and the animals are starting to develop deadly diseases that could bring about their demise. So all dogs are moved to a far away, secluded trash colony devoid of all humans. We follow the story of Chief (Bryan Cranston) and his pack of dogs that includes Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). They’re sick of eating scraps, wanting a new life away from Trash Island, and that’s when opportunity arises. Atari (Koyu Rankin) crash lands on the island in search of his lost dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Together, the dogs and Atari venture out in search of Spots.
t’s a film so whimsical, so magical and so delightful that it could’ve only come from the mind of Wes Anderson. His strength as a filmmaker has developed significantly over the years, and never have his signature traits been so effective than in his recent films. Isle of Dogs doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of his previous works, including his recent Oscar contender The Grand Budapest Hotel, but if this is one of his weaker films then it just goes to show the sheer strength of his filmography.
Not only is the film very funny and delightfully stylised, Anderson’s script is full of heart, poignancy and raw emotion. Sure, it’s a tale of dogs secluded in a world of trash, but it has the same personal feel as that of The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited. Most of the supporting dog characters feel somewhat underdeveloped and only there to serve the arc of Chief, which is a shame given the immense talents of the voice cast, but they are only supporting players in a film fuelled by a-list celebrities. Still, most of them get disregarded in the third act, but I guess it’s Chief story that resonates the most so having him at the forefront makes sense narratively speaking.
His disgruntled companionship with Atari carries a lot of the movie, leading down a path of utter delight and unexpected plot beats (as well as a few you’ll definitely see coming). The story gives way to real world themes that won’t necessarily blow you away and open your eyes to new issues, but instead it serves as a reawakening of what we already know, but can’t afford to forget, and it uses human kind’s admiration towards dogs as a front to get this story made. I love dogs. You love dogs. We all love dogs. Dogs are the backbone of civilisation, let’s be real here, and in more ways than one, Isle of Dogs is a love letter to man’s best friend.
This is, as well, one of Anderson’s most visually enlightening films to date. For me, Grand Budapest Hotel still takes the cake, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer beauty found within Isle of Dogs. It’s bright, bouncy and colourful, with a real keen cinematic eye and stop motion animation that’s to die for. As it stands, Isle of Dogs is the animated film to beat in 2018. All subsequent attempts, including the hotly anticipated Incredibles 2, have a lot to live up to in this unique and illustrious look at civilisation.
It seems Wes Anderson has found a home in animation. He’s two for two thus far and for good reason. His meticulous style can really be honed in and perfected, adding further delight and allowing Anderson to continue playing around in unique, almost magical environments he’s so well known for. It may not be a kids film, for its subject matter is far too deep and adult oriented for younger audiences to latch onto, but those after a unique, resonating story are bound to get an absolute kick out of this movie.
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