Isle of Dogs (2017)
Dir: Wes Anderson
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Wes Anderson increase his animated work, this is a brilliant follow-up to ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ and animation really suits his distinctive style.
When his dog is quarantined to a trash island along with all canines, the mayor’s ward goes in search of his four-legged companion, teaming up with a pack of dogs voiced by a stellar cast including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray and Edward Norton.
It’s so clearly a Wes Anderson film you can tell within seconds. He’s a director who knows what he likes, has some distinctive tropes and style that he’s sticking with, something he’s honed, near-perfected and can apply to live-action and animated movies alike. Even the title has a nod of Anderson’s cleverness, a double meaning that elicits a wry smile, a detail that if you get it you’re probably enough on his wavelength to enjoy the film, if not, maybe it’s not going to be your thing.
Anderson’s vision of Japan has been accused of some serious cultural issues, but what isn’t nowadays? Personally, I’m happy to put that argument aside for a moment as it’s such a stylised depiction of Japan and Japanese elements. They’re done in a way that feels genuinely affectionate, more a comment on Anderson’s love of Japan and Japanese culture, rather than him being culturally insensitive. I think he would’ve been plenty aware of the possible reaction while making it, but confident enough in his own motives to continue.
Making clever use of language, in the film all the dogs (despite being Japanese) speak in English, while almost all the humans speak in Japanese with occasional translation. I’d be interested to see how this was changed for release in Japan, I imagine the languages would have to be changed for it to still feel like a deliberate distinction? This is something I will get around to researching soon, I should’ve done it before writing this. Sorry.
Voicing the characters, mainly dogs, is a list of frequent Anderson collaborators and a few new stars. So many have really recognizable voices, especially Bryan Cranston whose Chief takes an occasional lead of the pack. Scar Jo.
Well paced and not overlong, Anderson keeps the story moving along smoothly, this brisque pace at times makes the film feel really classically adventurous. It’s full of Anderson’s trademark humour and has a few beautifully heartwarming moments too, not just style over substance as some of his live-action works are accused of being, the story has heart and twists that keep things interesting.
Is this one of Anderson’s best films? Maybe. I’m going to stay non-committal until I’ve seen it again and also plugged a few gaps in my viewing of Anderson’s filmography (there are a couple of his best-known films I’m very aware I’ve not gotten around to seeing yet). I expect that the success of this film may encourage him to make more animated movies, maybe a lot sooner than the 9-year gap since ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and that’s something I can definitely get on board with as I’ve enjoyed the two he’s made so far very much indeed.
Anderson’s animations are fantastic, and the skill involved in making stop-motion films is appreciated by those in the know, so, I think this could make it onto the Best Animated Feature nominations for the BAFTAs and Oscars as it has done with the Golden Globes. I don’t think it’ll win however, there are a few really strong contenders.