Isle of Dogs Review
Wes Andersons newest contribution to the art of stop motion is a spectacular must see event. This film is breathtaking in it imagery and artistry. The overall cultural nod to the people and traditions of Japaneses culture is probably the most accurate emulation to date by a person or production outside of the native culture, with the exception of Barry Purves Oscar nominated short “Screen Play”. Half of the film is in Japanese without subtitles which is a major element and adds the mystery that so many films are missing today. It’s as if Anderson is saying “if you want to know what they are saying then learn Japanese”. Don’t worry though if you are not a native Japanese speaker because you can at least understand the dogs which have been so generously translated for us by the makers of the film. Sorry that was a dry joke and you’ll understand when you see the first 5 minutes of the film.
Visually the film is stunning. There is a massive amount of detail placed into each set and the films color palette is very selective, sharp and vivid within the city and the muted colors of the trash island allow for the animals that occupy the island to stand out. The shear magnitude of detail and amount of puppets made for the film is jaw dropping. All the faces were apparently hand sculpted, molded, cast, and painted!!! There’s literally one scene with a massive crowd of 100 puppets. If this is some CGI witchery I couldn’t tell you! The shot is so flawless but massive that I both cringe and shutter at the amount of molding and casting that a department had to go through in producing all those puppets. It’s amazing when you consider the silicone pulls, armatures, and how many unique outfits each character needed.
Since the story mainly takes place on an island the puppets are allowed to have that fur chatter look that hairy stop motion puppets get when they are handled. This actually adds to the feel of the film and when it’s noticeable you get the feeling of the intentional feeling from the effect. Various dogs are all animate beautifully while giving the impression of a four legged animal. This as seasoned animators will note is not an easily achieved look and the artists that animated these animals have definitely reached near perfection with every frame. The humans that are animated in the film also have a lot of character. Without doing any research on the project, it looks as if the characters all had replacement animation for their faces. The use of whatever technology they used allowed for a very distinct look and feel that is expressive with each word or emotion. The quirky looks at the camera by the characters or the funny odd way the human characters move throughout the film are solely a Wes Anderson signature that you can see in all of his films. This is how you know your watching one of his films. If it was missing you would literally question if he even had any involvement.
There’s been some talk online about a couple of gory scenes. One involves a kidney transplant, and the other is where an ear gets bitten off. Honestly these are tame even in their shock value, but placed against the subtle background imagery of the film these moments pop out and can take you out of your comfort zone. When watching the film I could hear a little boy sitting behind me saying “why did that put this in the movie?”. You know kid I don’t know why other than to present a shot that was so beautiful in its execution of artistic light, shape, color, and movement that it deserved to be there. Looking back I would say this is my favorite shot of the whole film and it at first did make me quizzey because of how detailed it was, but I got over it when I realized the scientific artistry that this moment was examining. Doctors are artists too you know and the human body is often talked about as being a temple.
The character performance both by the animators and the actors of the film are pure perfection. I was sucked into the film once I recognized those classic voices of the english speaking characters. Though I couldn’t place any of the Japanese actors when listening to the dialog I could however admire their intense energy and appreciate the subtle and gentle moments of their performances. The five main dogs are a source of continuous amusement. I really enjoyed the performances of all the characters. The only thing I would want more of would be female characters, but the film delivers a lot in terms of character and intent.
Without giving away to much of the story I will say this, it is magical piece of writing that deserves a deeper look. There doesn’t seem to be any one main character in this film. Though the little pilot that is looking for his dog does have the story circling around him and his goals. Yet the five main dogs in the story are also a rag tag band of hero’s that bring a lively and energetic play back and forth while trying to achieve that same goal as the little pilot. If I could give you an example I would point to a military war type movie where the group is one unit with a purpose. It’s very Band of Brothersor Saving Private Ryanin that sense.
So really this is a great film and now my newest favorite made by Wes Anderson and his crew of mad genius artists. Would I suggest going and seeing this film? YES! If for anything just go for the artistry. It’s magical, surreal, and brilliant! Go see it now before it leaves theaters because you should see it on the big screen to get the full effect. Will I be buy it when it comes out on DVD? Yes and probably pre-order it if I get the chance. Got to add this to collection of amazing animated films of all time.