Isle of Dogs is the latest offering from director Wes Anderson. It is his second film utilising stop motion animation and focuses on an island of outcast dogs in Japan and a young boys quest to find his old dog.
Seeing as this is Wes Anderson’s second film in stop motion you would expect to see improvements from his sophomore effort, the wonderful Fantastic Mr Fox, in terms of the fidelity of the animation. Thankfully the animation in this movie is sublime and is an absolute joy to behold. The amount of detail that’s poured into every frame is something to behold, with your eyes often darting about the screen trying to take in all the scenery. Subtle details such as the dogs hair gently blowing in the wind, or Greta Gerwigs character Tracy’s neck chief billowing slightly with her movements add another layer of sheen and believability to the animation. A sushi making scene also stood out as being particularly beautiful with it’s framing, use of colour and score.
Wes Anderson displays his technical competence here that is a joy to behold. The way the camera fluidly tracks vertically or horizontally with shots having a focus on being symmetrical is a Wes Anderson staple but he seems to be growing ever more confident in his ability to pull off more challenging shots. The level of coordination, time and planning these must take in this format is daunting to consider. However this medium grants him a greater degree of control over how everything looks and moves which he clearly relishes with his idiosyncratic stylings.
The cast is typically jam packed with huge stars as per usual, it certainly seems he’s one of those directors than can get pretty much anyone to star in his films, regardless of how small the part. The cast uniformly solid with Bryan Cranston taking the lead as Chief. His relationship with the young boy Atari is the emotional core the film is centered on. His journey from cynical feral dog not trusting the human to wholeheartedly loving the young boy is really sweet to watch unfold, especially if you like dogs.
The film is also very creative in how it translates the Japanese dialogue. There are no subtitles for the majority of the movie. Instead the Japanese characters speak in their native tongue, either with translators speaking over them or not at all. It’s a refreshing and quirky technique that works well here and feels quintessential Wes Anderson. You also never feel lost when there’s no translation due to the body language and tone conveying enough information for you to understand the context of what is being communicated.
For me, however, I didn’t get a lot out of this movie other than it being a really enjoyable, whimsical tale about the special relationship between dog and man. That’s not to say every movie has to have complex underlying themes to unravel, I just didn’t connect with the film on a deeper level, be it emotionally or thematically. I didn’t connect with the characters as strongly as I would have liked either, despite all the actors doing stellar work. This prevents the film from standing side by side but I don’t want to sound too negative as I still thought it was a wonderful piece of filmmaking that I’m looking forward to see again.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the score to this movie, by Alexandre Desplat. Most notably a recurring theme that really stood out with it’s unique sound and contributing to the atmosphere of the world.
All in all this was an enjoyable and really rather lovely film with truly stunning visuals and animation with a unique premise and lovingly crafted world. It didn’t resonate with me as much as the Grand Budapest hotel nor Fantastic Mr Fox, but then those are very high bars too clear. Another solid entry to an ever impressive filmography.