Wes Anderson's tale about man and his best friend is a charming and gorgeous adventure.
Wes Anderson is a master of his own craft and style. Nobody makes films the way he does and it is as simple as that. With "Isle of Dogs" he returns to the stop-motion medium with the same style and flourishes that he brought to "Fantastic Mr. Fox". But "Isle of Dogs" is not like "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "Isle of Dogs" (while most assuredly a Wes Anderson movie) is somewhat of a departure from his normal type of story.
While it still most assuredly has his Andersonisms (is that a thing?) it is a sort of sprawling adventure film with a political slant, something that I don't usually find in his films. The film takes place in a future Japan where a cat-loving, dog-hating political administration has outlawed all dogs to trash island in response to an epidemic in said dogs. The film has two major storylines going on simultaneously, a pack of dogs and a young boy who is looking for his lost dog Spots on trash island and a foreign exchange student trying to uncover a conspiracy. While I found the storyline involving the dogs to be an absolutely enthralling and surprisingly emotional delight, I can't say the same for the conspiracy story.
While it retains the unique visual brilliance and design elements that the rest of the film has, it makes the film truly unruly. If this part of the movie was reduced and altogether cut the film would have been far more effective and enjoyable. Anderson also doesn't do himself any favors by having the hero of this storyline be the only white girl in like all of Japan (except for the translator voiced by a great Frances McDormand). While I find that much of the film is more homage than trivialization of Japanese culture and cinema, there simply is no way to defend this creative choice.
But it's not all bad news with this film, in fact, everything else I found utterly delightful. The writing is pitch-perfect and as hilarious as you'd expect. The cast of voice actors is insane and stacked to the brim with A-list talent that delivers. The visuals are some of Anderson's best as he again shows us why he is one of the most stylish directors working. The story involving the boy and the dogs is a heartwarming and fun adventure that won me over. Even Anderson's obviously more political slant in the film was refreshing, the way he depicts how the government in this dystopia operates and the figures who are spearheading it isn't that far-fetched (something we could probably thank writer Jason Schwartzman for). The story, voice acting, and visuals all come together to form something that only Wes Anderson could make.
This is Anderson at peak Anderson and if that doesn't get you excited than you are dead inside. His gorgeous homage to Kurosawa and Japanese cinema is a heartfelt and touching adventure about man and his best friend. It may have its problems (unruly story, weird characters, some trivialization of Japanese culture) the film is able to coast past that with its strong visuals and a lot of heart. If you love Wes Anderson than "Isle of Dogs" is most assuredly for you and even if you don't it is still a fun ride with plenty of laughs. [B]
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