Directed by: Wes Anderson
Runtime: 101 minutes
I love Wes Anderson films. After writing and deleting a million other sentences to start this review, that is the only sentiment I felt like I could begin on. The colour palettes; the deadpan dialogue; the distinct camera pans. Everything is slightly off-kilter—slightly out of time with how we are used to experiencing life. I feel the need to preface this review with my love for this director because, a bit like marmite, you can either love him or hate him. His films seem to have a different effect on different people. I, for one, spend the entire runtime of his films leaning forward in my chair, a huge smile on my face, entranced by the experience. Another friend of mine, in his words, just ‘doesn’t get it’, and finds himself getting annoyed and slightly woozy throughout. My partner is always put to sleep by his films. He doesn’t find the films boring, or hard to sit through—instead the camera movements and symmetrical imagery lull him into a state so relaxed he can’t help but miss the climax of every Wes Anderson flick I have put him through.
My love for these films always fills me with a slight trepidation before I venture to see Wes’s new work. Is this the time he will go too far—alienating even me? Am I going to become disenfranchised with the entire aesthetic, since it’s now present in daytime TV advertising and every new ‘edgy’ coffee shop? The latter was becoming true before I saw Isle of Dogs. His art had been reduced, in part, to thoughts of acai bowls and ‘coloured’ lattes. However, as soon as the first perfectly constructed frame of his new picture blasted onto the large screen, all of those thoughts melted away. I wasn’t with a pale imitation of the Anderson aesthetic—I was back in Wes’s hands, and he was ready to enchant me once more.
Set in Megasaki, a fictional city in future Japan, cat-loving totalitarian Mayor Kobayashi exiles all dogs onto a trash island due to a dog-flu and snout-fever epidemic. Atari, a young boy who loves his pooch, decides to rescue his dog Spots by flying a tiny plane onto the island. He is rescued by Chief, Boss, King, Rex, and Duke—a democratic pack of pooches who decided to help the young master in his plight. What ensues is a story that, despite being absolutely mental, is full to the brim of subtle, emotional moments. Once again, Wes has found a way to bring an incredibly human story into a stylised, fantastical experience. The film shines in its dialogue—while the usual Anderson deadpan, the lines seem even sharper than usual; a brilliantly dry wit is retained throughout the feature and makes this one of his funniest films to date. Really, by the end of the film, I just wanted to hug a dog. Aren’t dogs the best? If you disagree, this is the film I will be pointing you to.
The animation is beautiful. I could write an entire essay on how every frame pleases the senses and brings something interesting and innovative to the animated form. But, in lieu of that, I will just say it is gorgeous, uncharacteristically smooth for stop-motion, and strangely hypnotic. If you already have issues with Anderson’s style, you may find it a little amplified in this film; however, the animation form might work in your favour as well. Anderson’s live-action ventures can slip into the uncanny valley for those who favour hyper-realism, and the fact this film is animated might reduce this sensation. Either way, Wes fan or foe, you would have to admit that the visuals in this film are artfully constructed.
In essence, I adored this film. However, dear reader, I am not sure I would recommend it to you. To me, Wes Anderson films are a very personal experience. He presents a film, and you are completely fine to react to it however you see fit. No interest? Don’t watch it. Some interest? Give it a go. Can’t wait? You won’t be disappointed. For those of you looking to step into the wonderful world of Wes, Isle of Dogs is an adventure story with so much soul and warmth that it could become a gateway drug to his body of work. Whoever you are, if you wish to watch this film, prepare for an experience—I just can’t guarantee what kind of trip you will have.