Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwin, Francis McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono
Written by: (also story) Wes Anderson, (story) Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura
Running Time: 101 mins
Release date: 30th March 2018
The last time Wes Anderson made a stop-motion animation feature was back in 2009 with his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, which received huge critical success but left fans of the book somewhat bemused. Now he has gone back to the art form for his latest, Isle of Dogs, an original tale of a young boy’s quest to find his missing dog. Thankfully, Anderson won’t have the same reaction from Dahl fans this time and audiences can enjoy a heartwarming if quirky tale with the usual Anderson traits.
Megasaki City in Japan is suffering from a population explosion of dogs, all who seem to have dog flu. The Mayor banishes all dogs to trash island, a dumping ground for rubbish, where they roam in packs looking for scraps of food. Atari Kobayashi, the mayor’s adopted son, steals a plane and crash lands on the island, desperate to find his bodyguard dog, Spots. With the help of a band of dogs, they head across the island in search of Spots and discover that there was more to the mayor’s plan.
Fans of Anderson’s previous films will know exactly what to expect: impeccable cinematography where symmetry is king. Every shot is like looking at a perfectly framed piece of art. Four years since Anderson’s previous film, the brilliant Grand Budapest Hotel, you can tell that this wasn’t a film just thrown together. Every inch has been carefully crafted and framed to perfection. His films, regardless of the contents, are always a joy to behold and even if you didn’t know what you were watching, you would instantly tell it was an Anderson film.
The script crackles with intelligence and wit. Taking a simple story of a boy looking for his dog and turning it into a film with corruption, friendship, messages about the environment, mistrust and loyalty, all the while keeping the narrative moving at that Anderson pace, which sometimes seems so laid-back it may stop at any moment. It does have almost a hypnotic sense about it, with the visual being so uniformly precise and the pacing so leisurely. It also doesn’t help that the actors supplying the voices deliver their lines with the same gentle, lyrical whisp that suits the tone and pacing perfectly, only occasionally rising to a shout.
The animation is incredibly beautiful and rich in detail. Apart from symmetry, the attention of every inch of the screen is delicious. You should never concentrate solely on the foreground. As the creatures and humans, who seem to be made from either porcelain or smooth rubber, move from scene to scene, the hairs on the dogs individually moving, you can understand why it took Anderson so long to make. This comes across as a labour of love.
Anderson is slowly becoming the Woody Allen of cinema when it comes to collecting great actors to appear in (or in this case voice) his movies. This is crammed with famous names, all putting their talents to scruffy looking canines. Bryan Cranston has the air of authority with his creation of Chief, the mongrel who has a distrust of humans and yet eventually warms to the plight of the young boy. Anderson regulars Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban supply the voices of the gang who help the boy, while the flavour of the month, Greta Gerwin plays Tracey, a newspaper reporter who is determined to uncover the truth behind the mayor’s plans. Look out for Yoko Ono as the voice of an assistant scientist.
Isle of Dogs is a delight. It’s smart, funny and eye-catching. I wouldn’t say it was the kind of film a young child would enjoy but if you are a fan of Anderson (and I have to admit I am) then you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never experienced his work before, be prepared for off-kilt, sometimes twisted but genuinely intelligent cinema made with love and attention and not just thrown together for money. Delightful.