Saturday 21 April 2018

Film Review: Isle of Dogs

The oh so eccentric Wes Anderson returns with his second stop motion animation feature, Isle of Dogs.

Set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki in the near future, all dogs are banished to an island made of garbage by decree of Mayor Kobayashi after an outbreak of dog flu. Soon after, the mayor's ward, a small boy called Atari (Koyu Rankin), hijacks a plane and flies to the island in search of his beloved dog Spot. It's here he meets a troupe of scroungy pups – Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Together the band of misfits set off the search of Spot, journeying through valleys and across mountains of trash.

In hindsight, 2009's Fantastic Mr Fox is a proof of concept for Isle of Dogs; everything Anderson worked with nearly a decade ago has been refined and enhanced here. The stop motion animation is seamless and soon fools your brain into thinking it was merely spat out by a computer. On a technical level, Isle of Dogs is up there with the best in its genre.

That said, even though I found myself charmed by its whimsy and delightful animation, there wasn't a lot to chew on with Isle of Dogs. Not a lot of meat on its bones. All bark and no bite, if you'll pardon the horrendously obvious idiom. Its human characters are all kept at arm's length, with the language barrier and a lack of subtitles requiring narration or news reports to fill in the gaps. As a result, there's this void between the audience and the human characters, a void usually filled with emotional connection.

The canine characters don't fare much better; myriad celebrity voices (Cranston, Norton, Murray, Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Balaban) essentially boil each pup down to exactly that – a cute celebrity cameo. Each dog sounds and acts like the public persona of its voice actor, which leaves much to be desired in terms of forging a connection to their actual character. 

So while I enjoyed Isle of Dogs, I don't think I 'felt' much. It's gorgeous to look at and the painstaking detailing on each of the models boggles the mind, but beneath that it didn't do much for me. It was a fun and frivolous flight of fancy without a lot of substance backing up the visuals.

Although it might seem impossible after the dainty tweeness of Moonrise Kingdom or the picturesque pastels of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs sees Anderson outdo himself in capturing his own distinctive aesthetic, so much so that there isn't a lot else to it than said aesthetic. The symmetry, the vistas, the clever mix of stop motion and drawn animation – it's all gorgeous, but that's your lot.

At the end of the day, Isle of Dogs left me wanting more. It also left me asking; who is this film for? Surely not for children, as the humour isn't broad enough. But for adults, it's just a dash too cutesy. It falls into a strange no man's land.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Lots of cute dogs populate the titular trash island, but in terms of character this gorgeous stop motion feature is all at sea. Plus, and maybe I'm a little biased here, but I prefer cats. Sorry not sorry.

Isle of Dogs is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still on the fence with this one and it doesn't help that I haven't seen Fantastic Mr Fox either. I'll probably give it a go for the amazing cast list to be honest. Great review!



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