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Isle of Dogs – Movie Review

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Isle of Dogs – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

When Wes Anderson directed his first animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, he was adapting Roald Dahl’s book and brought his own sensibilities to the famous author’s story. Now, with Isle of Dogs, we see an Anderson completely let loose with his own creation of talking dogs with a clear love letter to canines everywhere. The attention to detail is startling with some wildly inventive touches in every frame. This is the sort of film that will reward repeat viewings, but it also has a wildly inventive story with unique characters that each stand out. Like a lot of Anderson’s films, there is brightness in this darkly comic story that allows it to stand out from the pack.

The first noticeable element of any Wes Anderson film is the use of framing. As shown in Fantastic Mr. Fox, that makes him a fitting director for animation as he successfully pulls the audience into his interpretation of the world. The various settings of Isle of Dogs are a wonder with production designers Paul Harrod and Adam Stockhausen creating a stunning Japanese metropolis and a garbage dump island filled with pooches. A lot of credit should also go to the model and prop makers for their incredible work in giving a lived in quality to these locales. Isle of Dogs even throws in a bit of hand-drawn animation when characters are watching television. Those little touches add so much to this animated world. While the visuals do the job of wowing our eyeballs, the story more than pulls us in. There is an unpredictable nature to how Isle of Dogs progresses and Anderson especially knows how to use flashbacks, with almost a self-awareness of what a cinematic convention they are.

Wes Anderson’s dry style of dialogue is all throughout Isle of Dogs and fit the dog-filled cast perfectly. He has brought a lot of his usual actors to provide the voices and nobody seems out of place. Most importantly, even with Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson and others providing voices, they don’t overpower the characters and our empathy for them. Each dog feels distinct, although it is Chief who goes through the most development. In a clever decision, Anderson chooses not to use subtitles, when the humans begin speaking Japanese. It’s a credit to his storytelling skills that anyone not fluent in Japanese will still understand what is happening. Occasionally, a translator does appear and even she becomes a memorable presence.

Even with multiple subplots running, including with a pro-dog activist group, Anderson weaves the stories together beautifully. There are genuine stakes and even bloodshed, which bring to mind Martin Rosen’s renowned talking animal pictures Watership Down and The Plague Dogs. The slight roughness of the stop-motion animation is appropriate as these dogs are dirty and malnourished. When a dog sneezes, that little movement and sound is immediately felt. At its heart, Isle of Dogs is ultimately about the bond between people and man’s best friend and it’s easy to imagine Anderson scratching behind his dog’s ears as he writes the screenplay.

When Wes Anderson directed Fantastic Mr. Fox, it might have been seen as a one-and-done deal. A filmmaker, commonly known for live-action, dabbling in animation as a way to bring one of his favourite books to the screen. With Isle of Dogs, he proves his genuine love for what the medium can accomplish and as another way to tell his stories. Using stop-motion as his animation technique of choice is even more admirable, when considering the patience required and how it’s sadly seen as un-commercial in Hollywood. Isle of Dogs is a delightful tale with many of the trademarks that make Wes Anderson’s work so identifiable.


Stefan Ellison

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