You know when you search for a film on Netflix, IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes and you see that list that goes along the lines of “if you like this, you will also like…”. In my opinion, for every Wes Anderson film that list should be left blank or contain his other films. There is no a single director working today that can make a film like Wes Anderson and those who try are doomed to fail. I had so much confidence in Isle of Dogs being special that I never had to think if it would be bad or not, that’s how much confidence I have in Wes Anderson’s abilities. Of course, something special is what I got and if you’ve loved Wes Anderson’s other works you should have already bought a ticket by now.
I am writing as someone familiar with Wes Anderson films so I won’t bother you with the clearly obvious details on the symmetry shots or the other cinematography elements, all you need to know is they’re great. However, I will start with something that I feel has continued to grow better and better with each film, the music. With the film being set in a dystopian near-future Japan, the film’s score includes a lot of Japanese inspired music, in the opening credits we are treated to this epic piece of music made with taiko drums and cowbells as well as the charming pieces that feature in most Wes Anderson films. Alexandre Desplat has once again done a marvelous job and it’s incredible how he can create both appealing and epic music with very minimal instruments.
Very recently this film has come under fire from accusations of cultural appropriation. Of all the accusations America cinema has received from cultural disrespect to whitewashing, this is probably the most absurd. Isle of Dogs shows a massive amount of respect for Japanese culture, the dogs in the film speak English and like typical Wes Anderson dialogue but the human characters mostly speak Japanese and the Japanese dialogue is not subtitled. Although we may not know what they are saying, we do understand what is being said clear as day. Wes Anderson has said that Isle of Dogs was heavily inspired by the films of Akira Kurosawa and Japanese cinema in general and you can tell this by the amazing sets and news scenes that share an appearance to woodblock printing.
Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated film with the first being Fantastic Mr. Fox and it was amazing to see that the animation detailing had massively improved. One of my favorite moments of the animation is how the animators envision the fights. Isle of Dogs is one of those films where the behind the scenes making is just as interesting as the film itself and if you’ve watched the making of Isle of Dogs, you’ll know that the cartoony clouds of smoke were made from cotton wool and the faces for the humans were all hand sculpted. It’s these simple but detailed elements that make stop-motion animation one of a kind and you can appreciate the effort of the animators in Isle of Dogs from the dog’s fur, the lip-syncing from the actor’s voices to even the way characters move.
Of course, being a Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs has a gigantic cast, a cast that would take forever just explaining how fantastically suited they are in their roles. I found myself appreciating the character journey they explored with its lead dog Chief (Bryan Cranston). His own personal journey from being a rock-solid stray dog to knowing what it means to be loved as a household dog by Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) is very well written and has a sweetness to it.
It is very easy to get lost in Wes Anderson style, you get so into the story that the odd stumble in the film can go unnoticed. So, let’s take the style out of the equation making the flaws of the film more open. I enjoyed the narrative structure of the story within a story (within a story) in The Grand Budapest Hotel, so much so I was hoping this would become the norm in his films, therefore expanding his craft. Isle of Dogs tries this but to me, they’re not utilized as well as they could have been.
It’s no secret that Wes Anderson’s characters speak and build in a very snappy format. However, this snappy way of presenting dialogue can often influence how strong the characters relationships are to one another, this sees to be the case with Chief and show dog Nutmeg (Scarlet Johansson). By all accounts, this should have been an interesting matchup, but they spend so little time on screen together that I felt the film should have given Nutmeg a bigger role or more scenes with the two characters.
If you are new to Wes Anderson films and are interested in Isle of Dogs, just the experience alone is enough to make your ticket purchase worth it, Isle of Dogs is visual proof that Wes Anderson is cementing his legacy on cinema deeper than previously. Isle of Dogs is a wonder of stop-motion animation with fantastic fictional world-building, engaging characters and layered storytelling that is bites when it wants to be and lovable when it wants to be. I started this review by saying that no one makes films like Wes Anderson, but I would like to add to that by saying no one can tell stories like Wes Anderson.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen Isle of Dogs? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: A Quiet Place