Wes Anderson has a reputation in the world of film for his quirky and captivating style, and this trend continues in his newest film, Isle of Dogs. To put it bluntly, this film is fantastic. It’s Anderson’s second feature-length, stop-motion animation film, and to say it meets the expectations set by his first animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, would be an understatement.
Isle of Dogs is about a futuristic, fantasy version of Japan where the Japanese government has a personal vendetta against dogs, so much so that they are outlawed from the country and exiled to an island aptly called Trash Island. When an unexpected visitor from the mainland finds his way to the island, a group of the exiled dogs, with the help of an American exchange student and a pro-dog movement on the mainland, try to help him return while also attempting to save their species from the wrath of the Japanese government. All of Anderson’s usual quirky details are featured in this film, from the perfectly symmetrical shots to the eccentric dialogue, but he also makes steps forward to create a film that is more than just another “Wes Anderson movie.”
This film is essentially a foreign film, as most of the dialogue from human characters is actually spoken un-subtitled Japanese, with the only translations coming from actual translators, who are characters within the film, whenever a character’s words are being broadcast on either radio or television within the film’s universe. While confusing at times, almost every untranslated line is easily understandable due to context clues or even occasional English words thrown in for assistance. This method of writing is quite immersive, and doesn’t pander to American audiences by making characters who are clearly not supposed to be using English speak it anyway. It seems like Anderson does this as almost an homage to old Japanese films and filmmakers, and in a way this film is his own love letter to the Japanese culture.
The only characters who speak English are all of the dogs and an American foreign exchange student, and even then, all the dogs aren’t actually speaking English, but are rather barking while the film generously translates that into English for the audience. The film even uses about 30 seconds before the story begins to explain how the language within the film works. Because of how the languages are set up, this film can be easily dubbed, as the dogs’ dialogue is all that really needs to be changed since they aren’t technically speaking an understandable language in the first place. Now for the less confusing stuff.
The stop motion animation in Isle of Dogs is simply masterful work. The movement of the characters, as well as everything else within the film, is seamless and smooth, and there are never any slight mistakes that take the viewer out of the immersion. Anderson doesn’t just use the stop motion for no reason though—he uses it to tell the story and bring certain events to life that would be impossible otherwise. Each character can be intricately designed without the constraints of working with a real person. Plus, he was able to put hilarious details onto the designs of certain characters to bring them to life. An excellent example of this is a schoolgirl who is depicted as an “emo” kid with lots of piercings, but since she is young and cannot get regular piercings, she has to improvise. Instead of having her just wear regular earrings, her only piercing is a safety pin that goes straight through the middle of her right cheek. It is subtle details like this that make this film so charming and hysterical.
This film has a wonderful sound to it aside from all the different uses of language. The sound design had to be masterful, as literally every single sound throughout the entirety of the film had to be created from scratch and mistakes would be obvious and immersion-breaking. Luckily, every sound, from footsteps and sneezes to the sound of a child riding down an aluminum slide, is convincing and well crafted, so there is never a moment where the sound brings the viewer away from the film. The score, composed mostly by Alexandre Desplat, is also a joy to listen to, as it pays homage to classical Japanese music while also properly setting the tone for each scene. The voice acting is great as well, and with a cast boasting the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand and more, that isn’t exactly surprising.
Isle of Dogs is a phenomenal film, and it will most likely find itself nominated for quite a few Academy Awards 10 months from now, and should get a couple of wins next March. This film is endlessly re-watchable and is an absolute delight to see in theaters. The story is compelling, the characters are likeable and fun to root for, and it is fully immersive from start to finish. This is the best animated movie to come out in over a year, and should be on the top of everybody’s “films to watch” lists while it remains in theaters.
Featured Image by Fox Searchlight Pictures