Director Wes Anderson’s visual style is a perfect fit for stop-motion animation.
Interior scenes in past films like ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ made actors like Bill Murray resemble figurines wandering through a doll house. After proving his capabilities with ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, the director returns to the style with ‘Isle Of Dogs’.
Set in a futuristic Japan, all dogs have developed the flu and are quarantined to Trash Island (a giant dump in the ocean). These settings are unusual for Anderson, whose past work favoured bright pastel colours and leafy-green suburbs. Scenes set on the island are dull whites and greys and barren of foliage, but with these he employs things like symmetry to turn scenes into artworks painted against an off-white sky.
Much like previous films, Anderson has attracted an impressive voice cast, including Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Bryan Cranston in the lead role as Chief. Each are given distinctive quirks, the best being Goldblum’s Duke constantly exclaiming, “Did you hear the rumour?” However, rather than the voices, it’s the animation which brings them to life; the dogs’ eyes are soulful and express a lot of emotion for a couple of glass spheres.
‘Isle Of Dogs’ is filled with side-stories, including an exchange student (Greta Gerwig) investigating a government conspiracy. Anderson’s films juggle a huge cast of characters and multiple stories that share significance. But here, only the story of Chief and the young Atari (Koyu Rankin) bonding and searching for the latter’s lost dog shows development; the majority of the rest seem thin. However, that main story shares much in common with the hero’s journey of Japanese storytelling, showing Anderson attempting something new and that the Japanese influence is much deeper than it appears.
As charming as ‘Isle Of Dogs’ is, the film has a sophomore-slump feel to it compared to ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’. The earlier film told a simpler story with many laugh-out-loud moments. The humour in ‘Isle Of Dogs’ is more dry and deadpan than Anderson’s usual, surely going over the heads of the younger viewers it’s aimed at. While it doesn’t reward as much as ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, ‘Isle Of Dogs’ does have warmth much like any pet provides.