Thanks to 20th Century Fox we had the chance to see Wes Anderson‘s Isle of Dogs before its official cinematic release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
Wes Anderson‘s immaculate visual style and measured dialogue is a perfect fit for the meticulousness of stop-motion animation. Isle of Dogs is his second attempt at animation after the excellent Fantastic Mr Fox, and it’s an improvement in nearly every way.
Starting with a fable about the dog-hating, cat-loving Kobayashi clan’s attempt to eradicate all Japan’s wild dogs that is foiled by a boy and results in the dogs’ domestication, it jumps to twenty years in the future in the stylised, retrofuturistic city of Megasaki. The Kobayashi clan is once again trying to eradicate all dogs, who are suffering from Dog ‘Flu and infested with parasites. They are sent to Trash Island to fend for themselves. Our hero, young Akira, steals a plane and crashes on the island, looking for his dog, and the adventure begins.
The story is shot through with Anderson‘s love-it-or-hate-it, bone-dry wit. I laughed out loud (and quite hard) multiple times, along with a good portion of the rest of the audience (who gave it a round of applause at the end), so I feel safe saying I wasn’t entirely alone in my appreciation of the humour. The all-star voice cast add loads of character and feeling to the very reserved style of the film. In a fun conceit, the dogs all speak English, but the Japanese people speak (mostly untranslated) Japanese, but you’ll never miss the meaning or implications of anything. Don’t be fooled by the fantastical doggy subject matter though, this is definitely not a children’s movie. It doesn’t pull its punches regarding death, violence, gore and disease. Just the (incredible!) sushi-making scene will be too much for most kids.
What really elevates this movie far beyond its surface subject matter (which can be understood in multiple ways, some overtly political) is the sheer love and effort that gushes from every frame. Anderson‘s distinctive, hyper-controlled visual style runs rampant here with absolutely stunning results. Whether it’s the exquisitely detailed sets and Japanese graphic elements, or the individually animated fleas working their way through the dogs’ coats, literally not a moment goes by when you are not staring at the screen as though it’s about to reveal your lottery numbers. Through a thrilling, inspired mix of pure stop-motion, 2D cel animation and all sorts of clearly handcrafted optical trickery, all rendered in a purposefully limited colour palette, this film will have you pawing at your TV when you inevitably buy it in HD to savour it again and again. But don’t wait: go and see it on the biggest screen you can.
I’m giving this a perfect score. Were it not as drolly amusing and heartfelt as it is, it’d still be compulsory viewing for its unique beauty.