Taking place in a future-set Japan, the Japanese government has decreed that all dogs – pets or otherwise – must be sent to an offshore disposal facility; aptly called the Isle of Dogs.
From this premise comes Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic outing which is every bit as beautiful as trailers have led to believe. Every single shot of this film could be paused, framed, and displayed in a museum celebrating the intricate perfection of stop-motion animation. Couple this with Anderson’s unique flair for direction and affinity for symmetry, and you’ve got yourself a movie-going experience unlike any other.
The narrative housed in this package of visual delight is serviceable, if a little bland, with young orphan Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) travelling to the trash island to rescue his lost guard dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). Upon crash landing and passing out, Atari awakens to a greeting by a pack of alpha dogs: Boss, King, Rex, Duke, and Chief – voiced by Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bryan Cranston, respectively. Yeah, there’s a pretty stellar cast.
In fact, most of the voice talent you might not even recognise until the credits roll after the film’s fairly brisk 100-minute running time. The likes of Scarlett Johansson and Harvey Keitel might stand out, but names like Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand manage to slip through the cracks.
Unfortunately, much of this is due to Isle of Dogs’ sporadic plot that leaps all over the place in an attempt to inject some non-linear storytelling into the mix. While it often works logistically, it doesn’t make up for what is an otherwise straight-forward story of a boy looking for his beloved pet. It packs the right emotional punches and throws in a twist when it’s necessary, but Isle of Dogs never amazes with its storytelling; it’s not wholly predictable, but the film’s script certainly isn’t its strongest asset.
When things shine, though, it’s an absolute blinder. The consistent blend of gorgeous visuals and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack makes for an emotional roller coaster that is much more than the sum of its parts. Many of the best snippets from the score have featured on the aforementioned trailers, but there’s plenty of moments throughout Isle of Dogs that are bolstered by its precise aesthetics. Particularly scenes that deal with the quick transition of time – or journeys of any kind – are mesmerising to both look at and hear. It’s rare that a film can survive purely on its cinematic prowess, but Anderson may very well have nailed it here.
Ultimately what this leads to is a film that is in service of — not enhanced by — its overall presentation. Films like those released by Aardman use the medium as a means of housing lovable characters and colourful storylines. If this plot, however, was delivered in any other way than stop-motion animation, I can’t imagine it would be nearly as engaging. Because of the constant beauty featured on-screen, Isle of Dogs is a cinematic experience that must be exactly that: seen in a cinema.
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While not rich in its storytelling, Wes Anderson's latest is a stunning masterpiece that demands to be seen in the cinema.
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