Wes Anderson and a selection of his merry troupe return for his 9th feature, and 2nd stop-motion animation, in the energetic Isle of Dogs. It has been four years since Anderson’s last acclaimed feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and a nine year stretch since he first strayed into the fray of animation with Fantastic Mr Fox.
Isle of Dogs takes us to the Japanese mega city of Megasaki, where the cat-loving aristocracy have banished man’s best friends to the nearby Garbage Island. Twelve year old Atari Kobayashi, adopted ward to the Mayor of Megasaki, hijacks a plane and spectacularly crash lands on Garbage Island in an attempt to rescue his dog-napped companion and bodyguard Spots. Adventures ensue as he is guided throughout various hijinks by a rag-tag pack of marooned dogs, voiced by some of Anderson’s usual suspects.
The fictional non-stop atmosphere created is a testament to Anderson’s ability to wield the stop-motion medium, and his attention to detail is other worldly. Each character is well created, and the dogs have a cuteness factor off the scale. The usual symmetrical camera shots, stories within stories and blunt exposition, characteristic of Anderson’s technique, again create a rich culture and context for an adventure full of humour, and the odd piercing moment of heartbreak.
The plot was at times erratic, and often alternates between Anderson’s own style of snappy dialogue and quirky interactions, and extended Kurosawa-esque sequences of steady progression. As a small criticism, some small side plots were used to solve major story issues, and character development seemed to occur almost instantly at times.
Despite this, the story comes together well and touches on several unforeseen themes. Amongst the humour and impressive animation, the story tends to turn oddly existential. Dogs are man’s best friend, but is pet ownership even ethical? Does an animal live a better life with frequent baths, perms and pedicures, are would they better enjoy a life in the wild? Is pet ownership at its core selfish?
The voice acting is expectedly impressive. Bryan Cranston’s gruff voice suits the rough stray of his dog Chief, and the rest of the pack are well envisioned with the likes of Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum, although there is a tendency for the male leads’ voices to be undifferentiable at times. Greta Gerwig is spectacular as a lively American exchange student with a penchant for protesting, but as always the show is stolen by Tilda Swinton as the television addicted Oracle.
The overarching feeling of the film is one of happiness and companionship. It is well speckled with moments of humour, but is not afraid to venture into more serious territory. The thought-provoking cinema-leaving feel-good feeling which Anderson has somehow made his own is again present. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable film, Isle of Dogs stands well amongst Wes Anderson’s impressive anthology.