Isle of Dogs: A Savory And Pleasant Adventure
Review by Aaron Haughton
Wes Anderson makes his return to the realm of stop-motion animation with an Eastern influenced story birthed from his love for Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa and Man's best friend. It's everything that you'd expect a Wes Anderson film to be: winsome, quirky, meticulous and well crafted. But how does it stack up against his body of work, especially Fantastic Mr. Fox?
Something dawned on me as I was watching Isle: Anderson has a baker's approach to his filmmaking. He's precise, and obsessive-compulsive in his attention to detail. He's also been essentially serving up the same extravagantly decorated filmic cakes since 1998. So what makes it so special anymore? The answer is: very little. Other filmmakers with a chef's mentality are more willing to try something new and experiment, even if that means failing, and Anderson's stubborn baking background prevents him from going out on a limb. Unfortunately, Isle of Dogs kinda finds him chasing his own tail a bit.
I don't mean to say that Isle isn't a good film because it's a perfectly fine and technically sound offering; however, Anderson's style has become so standard and commonplace that he's lost the ability to blow me away. Even the stop-motion animation turf is previously treaded terrain, and I think it was done with much greater affect in 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox, which manages to elicit more pathos and heart than Isle is really able to muster. Sure, it has it's touching moments, but they're fewer and further between.
The animation, on the contrary, is superior to Fox in every way. The vibrantly colorful and deliciously intricate models, sets, and worlds Anderson and company have crafted make for some incredibly stunning, sweet and sugary eye candy. In terms of visual detail, this film finds Anderson at his best, but narratively-speaking, the story is somewhat less engaging and immersive than his previous efforts. However, the story has some surprisingly political overtones that safely comment on the current climate and a certain Cheeto-dusted Western leader, which are as amusing as they are effective. The Eastern influence isn't diluted in the slightest, and Japanese characters speak in their mother tongue with news and media serving as English translator, which was a bit of fresh air. However, those are about the only nuances that you'll find here.
The voice talent consists of a litany of of top-notch actors, but very little stands apart with regard to performance. The most enjoyable aspect was the relationship and chemistry shared between the 5 main dogs played by Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum; however, Norton and company get lost in the wayside as the film morphs into more of a journey between the Atari Kobayashi, AKA "The Little Pilot", (played by Koyu Rankin) and Cranston's Chief. Several big name actors are under utilized and gone in the blink of the eye, like Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and Yoko Ono (why is she even in this?!).
In terms of a children's film, I think it may be a little too dense and rapid paced for kids to fully comprehend, but there's enough visual hypnotics and savory humor to hold them over for the duration of the film. In some respects, it tries to do a little too much and ends up sinking in weight of its own ambition. There's also a lot of characters to keep track of and a few title cards are gone before they could be fully read. For that reason, it seems to be a film that's more pointed at adults but is presented in a way in which kids will enjoy.
Overall, it's a spectacle that only master baker Wes Anderson can concoct, but it's not as filling, nor does it really have the feels factor of Mr. Fox. The film opens with a lot of lively enthusiasm, but looses verve slowly as the film wears on. Dogs may be lukewarm in heart and charm, but it's still cutesy enough for audiences to chuckle and swell with "aww" as you meet more and more adorable and cuddly canines. The film releases in select theaters this Friday, March 23rd, so check it out if it's in your area.
Rating: 3.5 "good boy" hugs outta 5.
What do you think? Did you love Isle of Dogs more than Fantastic Mr. Fox? How does it stack up against the rest of Anderson's body of work? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!