Isle of Dogs. I love dogs.
I do love dogs, and I also love Wes Anderson, so my expectations were pretty high going into this movie. This is dangerous, because quite often I go in with my expectations set too high, and then I end up being disappointed, but this time I think I had them set about right.
It’s worth mentioning that this movie has faced some accusations of cultural appropriation and tone deafness. Some people feel like Anderson has fallen into the trap of using reductive Japanese stereotypes, and he’s been criticised for the predominantly white cast. His stylistic decision to have a lot of the Japanese characters remain untranslated has also been criticised for turning them into foreigners within their own landscape. I understand that these issues are going to mean that it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I still enjoyed the movie for what it was.
If you love Wes Anderson, then you’ll love Isle of Dogs, as it has all the key elements you’d expect from a Wes Anderson movie – it has his signature visual style, and it has the usual melancholic tone, peppered with quirky and whimsical humour. Set in the fictional city of Megasaki and nearby Trash Island, it tells the story of the dog-hating Mayor who banishes all the dogs from the city over fears of over-population and dog flu. The Mayor’s ward, Atari, goes to Trash Island in search of his canine bodyguard, Spots, who was one of the first dogs to make the trip over to Trash Island.
This is Anderson’s first stop-motion movie since Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it’s also the longest stop-motion movie ever made. I found myself marvelling at the amount of work it must have taken to make this movie. The dogs were crafted using alpaca wool, for a realistic fur effect, and their faces are incredibly expressive. The human characters were kind of weird and waxy-looking, but I liked that, because it very definitely sets the humans out as the secondary characters. Atari’s tiny little mouth and creepily small teeth were slightly unnerving, but the detailed animation of his face more than makes up for the fact that non-Japanese speakers will not understand most of Atari’s dialogue.
The voice talent behind the animation is a veritable who’s who of Hollywood, with a lot of Wes Anderson’s go-to actors voicing the canine characters: Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel – the list goes on. The top dog is Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston. He’s an outcast twice over, being a stray dog and then also being banished to the island with all the previously pampered pets. Chief leads a gang of unlikely canine heroes on the even more unlikely quest to track down Atari’s lost dog Spots, with numerous setbacks and surprises along the way.
Wes Anderson movies can sometimes be a little bit light on plot at times, but I thought the story of Isle of Dogs rolled along quite nicely, and it’ll be no surprise to fans of Anderson’s aesthetic that it’s visually stunning. I basically want Wes Anderson to design my entire life for me – I want him to buy me a new wardrobe and redecorate my house. I also kind of want to go and live on Trash Island. An island full of dogs designed by Wes Anderson? That sounds pretty heavenly to me.