Directed by Wes Anderson
Voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Koyu Rankin
Films about the relationship between people and dogs are a rare breed, and there perhaps ought to be more of them, especially if they are as lovingly and impressively crafted as this stop-motion animation.
In this canine apocalyptic scenario, all dogs have been banished due to a virus outbreak and are sent to a trash island to fend for themselves as they now all live as strays. A young boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), travels over in the hopes of finding his dear canine friend and he enlists the help of a pack of dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and the most straying of this stray group, Chief (Bryan Cranston).
This is a stunningly animated film, bringing to life this huge array of dog, human, and other animal characters through gorgeously designed stop-motion puppets and great voice acting from this massive ensemble cast. As has been demonstrated by writer-director Wes Anderson’s previous stop-motion film Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), his delightfully rigid visual style and peculiarly sharp pacing skills seems perfect for stop-motion, which just couldn’t have been achieved through any other kind of animation.
His trademark deadpan humour is also on display here, though it tends to amuse rather than feel flat-out hilarious. Although the human characters can be humorously caricatured, they do feel like they’re taking second place to the canine ones, and whereas the film doesn’t go all the way with the relationships between its human characters, it makes up for that with its incredibly touching scenes showing the bond between the humans and dogs.
All of this takes place in Japan, which is beautifully put up on screen. Although we don’t see a whole lot of the country (as the film is mostly set on the trash island), it’s the culture that is so imbued in the film, from the classical Japanese painting back-drops (featuring plenty of dogs), the astonishing music (that includes pounding taiko drumming), a couple of beautiful moments involving cherry blossoms, an amazingly animated sequence involving the preparation of a sushi meal, and the two wonderful uses of haikus. There doesn’t appear to be any clear or strong reason as to why the film is set there, other than perhaps Anderson is enamored with the country and its culture and wanted to fill as much of that in this labour of love of his.
Isle of Dogs is certainly Wes Anderson to a tee – if you have happened to not get on board with the tone of his previous films, it doesn’t seem likely you will with this one, no matter how dazzled you are with the craftsmanship on display. But Anderson and his own brand of quirky deadpan cinema is not a niche market, given his success, and Isle of Dogs is likely to captivate a wide audience (of many ages) with its wildly impressive animation and its touching focus on what dogs and their owners mean to each other.