Isle of Dogs – 2018
Written and Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring (Voices) Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood, Kara Haywood
Isle of Dogs is the kind of film that, once you’re in the middle of it, you almost feel like it’s too good for the likes of you. Watching brave Atari Kobayashi (Rankin) laying down, it occurs to me that the skin of his upper lip and nose is translucent of the light that is behind him. Who goes into that kind of detail? Wes Anderson is who. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Something about Anderson’s style translates excellently to the realm of his stop motion animation, first with the Fantastic Mr. Fox and now this even better film. The way the canine characters stare blankly at the screen reciting key points of dialogue is more than the words say themselves. These characters know they’re absurd, and they’re dead serious about their absurdity.
The story is one of an ancient culture war between a cat loving Kobayashi clan, and the dogs they so despise. The beginning of the film describes an ancient battle that’s essentially going to be repeated. Cut to 20 years in the future, when descendants of the clan rise to power. They concoct a ludicrous plan to imperil the population of dogs onto “Trash Island” where they are allowed to run free with the rats while starving and dying of a series of maladies afflicted upon them. Sounds fun, I know. But wait…
The Mayor’s grand nephew, Atari, escapes to the island via stolen plane. Once there, he’s taken into care by a “Hero Pack” that votes to save him and help him find his dog Spots. The Mayor starts a furious search for his distant nephew while nefariously moving forward on his plan for complete annihilation of the dogs.
One of the Hero pack, Chief (Cranston), is the sole dissenting vote in the rescue of Atari. While not entirely wild, he did bite a human once. He’s not sure why. Of course this means he and Atari will become closer and there will be some cleaning, some affection will be forthwith. Not without some resistance.
Normally I can take or leave Anderson’s live action stuff. The quirky style of his films repeats ad naseum and, depending on the story, it can range from good to awful. Honest trailers just pointed out that Anderson has created his own version of cliche by now.
For some very important reasons, these same moves all work better when he takes the time and very meticulously documents them in his stop motion animation world. What we get is a movie that works in many ways each scene. The jokes are layered. The scenery is layered. The eyes even tell many stories. The silence works wonders, even. One could watch this film 100 times and enjoy it differently each time. It’s masterfully done.
So much did I enjoy the film, I spent the time watching the credits trying to figure out how I could work it into my schedule to watch it again this week. It’s faux seriousness that belies everyone and everything that believes itself important. Yet the craft that went into this film is unlike anything I have ever seen. The artistry is beyond what one has a right to expect from a regular old movie. That’s to say nothing of the script, which has more throwaway classic lines than most comedies have just average jokes.
See this if you can. You shouldn’t regret it if you have a sense of vision and a sense of humor.
(***** out of *****)