Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Running Time: 101 Minutes
UK Release Date: 30 March 2018
BBFC Certificate: PG
Feature length stop-motion films are a rarity these days, partly because CGI movies are quicker to produce and are seen as better box office propositions – as well as it being easier to amend a scene or use an alternative camera angle if it’s been generated on a computer.
However, there is a certain charm that you get with stop motion that CGI will never have. It’s the same way that CGI monsters in horror films are never as scary as animatronic ones because the audience is enticed by something real and physical presented on screen. The films of Ray Harryhausen are prime examples of how effective stop-motion can still be. Many of us in the UK grew up with Morph, Wallace and Gromit and several other stop motion animated character, and the meticulous work of the animators comes across on the screen, for which I respect and admire their level of dedication.
Isle of Dogs is director Wes Anderson’s second venture into stop motion after the excellent Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, and for me the medium is the perfect fit for his trademark blend of obscure characters and colourful worlds.
The story for this film takes place in a slightly futuristic and dystopian Japan, where Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has quarantined all of Japan’s dogs onto an island due to an outbreak of dog flu. His nephew Atari (Rankin) travels to the island in search of his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and is helped along the way by a hilarious (and diplomatic) pack of canines consisting of Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Boss (Anderson regular Bill Murray).
Simply put this is a must see for fans of Wes Anderson, as we get all of his trademarks that we know and love. Amongst these elements are quirky yet well-defined canine and human characters, a great soundtrack, a strong female character who is against the norm, a love interest and plenty of dry wit and black humour.
I am a fan of the directo’rs back catalogue but a stand out for me is Fantastic Mr. Fox. It added a whole new visual element to the director’s already striking use of cinematography. Just take any shot from one of his previous films and you’ll see it’s full of detail where every frame is a painting. In my opinion the use of stop motion is the perfect medium to showcase Anderson’s vision – and upon hearing his next animated film would be set in Japan, I was sold.
In this day and age social warriors and social worriers with a Twitter account are up in arms about everything and nothing, and it was a shame to read stories of cultural misrepresentation/appropriation within the film. However this, like many things, is a matter of opinion and having watched the film I see Isle of Dogs as a loving homage to Japanese culture. The film is certainly richly influenced by it.
Without giving away all of the surprises the team behind this film have utilized thousands of years of Japanese culture and interwoven it within the film. We have haikus, sumo wrestlers, sushi and paper walls, and the film has embraced the country’s heritage whilst not making fun of it just for the sake of it. However, I feel this story would work in any industrialized country, whereas Coco’s (2018) story only works within Mexican culture. That said, if Isle of Dogs took place out of Japan it would lose a lot of its charm.
Another example is the use of dialogue within the film – there is even a disclaimer at the beginning. The majority of humans speak in their native Japanese tongue, although often with English speaking translators, while the dogs speak in English.
This works well as there are several scenes between Atari and the pack where they can’t understand each other bar a few commands, just like in real life.
This brings me to the perfect voice cast which is too long to list and there were a few surprises as the end credits rolled, including non-other than Yoko Ono. Each of the dog’s voices differentiates them from one another and it wouldn’t surprise me if Anderson and his team had certain actors in mind while designing the characters. They certainly all make an impression.
The story is told episodically and has a lot of heart throughout. Overall it’s very funny with lots of visual humour. We have some great set pieces as the pack venture through post-apocalyptic looking industrial areas of the island, and there are some great action scenes.
I could go on and on picking apart what I enjoyed about this film but as with everything there are a few minor flaws. What I will say though is that this is the perfect family film to see this Easter, or any other time of the year, and you will be solidly engrossed throughout its runtime.
Overall Verdict: A visually stunning, quirky, warm and consistently hilarious movie that audiences of all ages will love. It has all the trademarks of a Wes Anderson movie that you know and love, and is a great starting point for those who are new to his quirky style of filmmaking.
Reviewer: George Elcombe