Isle of Dogs Review: Wes Anderson Delivers His Most Playful, Accessible and Downright Gorgeous Movie To-date

There are some givens when Wes Anderson releases a new film. The film is, of course, incredibly funny with an eye for subtle sight gags and great character humour. It is also very sweet, being at once fantastical yet authentically intimate. It is also beautiful, both in terms of its production and its intention.

Set in a dystopian future Japan, Isle of Dogs concerns an initiative by mayor of Megasaki to solve the problem of canine flu by exiling all of the cities dogs to a remote island that is also a trash deposit. A boy, Atari, travels to the island to find his dog. He meets a pack of dogs who decide to help him, much to the chagrin of member Chief. Their journey will take them all across Trash Island, encountering many unusual dogs along the way. Can Atari find his dog and stop a government wide, cat-biased conspiracy?

The stop motion animation is gorgeous. Characters are well designed and very expressive. The slightly uncanny creepiness that sometimes marred The Fantastic Mister Fox (which I always half suspected was intentional) is gone as these characters are consistently beautiful throughout. The minutiae of expression captured in the animation is captivating. Anderson’s fondness for symmetry works wonderfully in this medium as he is able to experiment with lateral movement, Dutch angles and depth.

The film is packed with references to Japanese culture. The films of Kurosawa were clearly important when it came to directing motion and direction. The iconic theme to Seven Samurai plays twice in the film. Characters feel influenced by Osamu Tezuka. The music predominantly features Japanese drumming and is incredible powerful.

Isle of Dogs is one of Wes Anderson’s most playful movies, with its on screen captions indicating the beginning and ending of flashbacks as well as a warning regarding the unusual treatment of language in the film. This may also be Anderson’s most accessible film as it follows a thrilling and (somewhat) conventional narrative with clear character goals for everyone. There is, however, a palpable sense of danger as Anderson has never shied away from darker moments in his stories.

Voice acting is perfect throughout. Bryan Cranston as the reluctant hero is gruff yet loveable. Edward Norton is an excellent foil with his well-intentioned concern. Greta Gerwig is forceful and hilarious as the student protest leader Tracy Walker. Other memorable and distinctive voices come care of Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johanson, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel. With a voice cast this large, it’s easy for some stars to get lost in the shuffle, but no one sounds out of place.

Wes Anderson has returned with a beautiful animated story of love and adventure. The peril feels real, the world rich and the characters human (even the dogs).

Five Stars

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