Wes Anderson last dabbled with stop-motion animation with his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox almost a decade ago. When the auteur announced he would be returning to the genre with Isle of Dogs, fans of his work were quick to generate anticipation for the film. The title of this latest feature may derive from an area of London in the River Thames, but the film takes place in a dystopian Japan and follows a young boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), in search of his lost dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Anderson has encompassed many of his usual themes within the plot and- mixed with his distinctive visual style- Isle of Dogs sees him make another favorable film.
It is almost customary that a Wes Anderson film is made up of an ensemble. He has said that making an animation film has allowed him freedom in assembling a choice cast which includes Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson and Greta Gerwig as well as frequent collaborators in Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum and of course Bill Murray who is making his eighth collaboration with the writer-director. The five dogs Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Boss (Murray) and Duke (Goldblum) that aid Atari on his journey seems to epitomize this unified nature by all having names associated with leadership but none of them acting as so. Throughout the film, they often decide matters by voting and Chief even has to remind them that they are all leaders. This aspect of the film appears to be part of the overarching sentiment of mutual love and respect that Isle of Dogs expresses. Wes Anderson films are often character driven and there are many characters in the film, both human and mutt, whose journeys become of interest to the audience.
Isle of Dogs shares the speedy pace audiences would expect to see in a Wes Anderson film. Within the early stages of the film, the audience is immediately introduced to the band of five canines fighting over scraps with another pack of pooches, but there is no dwelling upon this moment and not a second later does Atari crash land on the home of the dogs, Trash Island. Though this all happens within a short time frame it is clear to the audience what is happening, and you are instantly engaged in the film. At times Isle of Dogs also feels like a western. Occasionally, the director’s trademark tracking shot appears and follows the six walking through the derelict isle to I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. The production design of Adam Stockhausen, who has also worked with Anderson previously, enhances this effect with a distinctive color palette the auteur’s films are known for. There is a beautifully composed scene with characters depicted in silhouettes which have them set against a backdrop of brightly colored bottles. You cannot help but marvel at the artistry of the scene but it doesn’t take away from the necessary focus on the characters’ words.
Mixed in with the 60s and 70s pop music that is commonplace in Wes Anderson films is Alexandre Desplat’s original score. Whilst Anderson pays homage to Japanese culture through cinematic icons like Akira Kurosawa, Desplat uses taiko drums and various percussion instruments fused with woodwind instruments to give Isle of Dogs a very tribal sound that honors the country’s heritage and concurrently builds tension.
With Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson and his creative team have proven in a world that is dominated by computer-generated animation that there is still love and enjoyment to be had from stop-motion. My only criticisms of Isle of Dogs are that it is tad overlong and isn’t nearly as amusing as some of the writer-director’s previous efforts. However, the artistry of the animation is wondrous and using man’s best friend to convey a message that shouldn’t be disassociated with the present political climate is very novel for Anderson and makes for a satisfying watch.