Isle of Dogs (2018)
Isle of Dogs initially gave me concern. Could Wes Anderson duplicate Fantastic Mr Fox? And could he bring even more out of a claymation story? He did guys. Maybe because Roald Dahl nostalgia won’t be threatened this time around, Anderson’s character quirks and witty dialogue thrive through the clay. Each step of this meticulously designed, cleverly narrative story is a marvel. Innovation, disaster zones, Japanese heritage mixed with a trace of dystopia looming; Anderson’s canine excommunication is outstanding.
Anyone familiar with Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel understands what’s at stake in a Wes Anderson film: Bill Murray and friends are going to get into quipping shenanigans in a highly stylized world. This time, the animals take over again, and the pristine animation (shining fur, fuzzy debris, rats both diseased and adorable) permits every eccentricity show. There’s a style and framing to the pauses and humor that is recognizable and often immitated; getting this to come out through stopmotion dogs is precisely why the film already won best director at the Berlin Film Festival.
Grasping the epic of Atari (Koyu Rankin), a descendant of the cat loving Kobayashi family, allows Anderson to create a narrative structure translating the dogs’ barks into English and allowing human communication to remain natural, occasionally delivered through translator or technology. Permitting this explanation at the beginning of the film, you can expect full use of the medium to permit a fanciful story of a boy’s journey to save his best friend. Landing in Trash Island, the dump holding the dog-flu infected castaways, Atari teams with Chief (Bryan Cranston, stern brilliance) and his band of “Alpha Dogs” to find his lost dog Spots, the first dog sent to the island by his distant uncle, mayor of the city. He ventures through wonderfully designed demolished testing facilities and toxic landfills creates every shot into a visual treat. With director of photography Tristan Oliver (Fantastic Mr Fox, ParaNorman) and the cities and trash heaps designed by Oscar winner Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years a Slave) and first timer Paul Harrod, the vision is gorgeous along with heaps of charm.
The rotating selection of dogs and humans, ranging from Greta Gerwig as an exchange student seeking dog rights to F. Murray Abraham and Tilda Swinton as the wisest dogs on the island, the star studded creation is a rapid, pleasurable jump into fantasy and will thrill dog lovers and movie buffs alike. This movie is rife for sequel when the cats decide to have their say, but until then, show up for a sometimes tender, sometimes touching, but always punchy comedy. Going to a dog-friendly viewing added to its charm but even without audience participation, you’ll have a grand timing taking a look at man’s best friend reclaiming their top-dog position.