Either your love Wes Anderson or you hate him. Actually, I believe there is a secret third category: where you accept him. I’m in that category. By accepting that all of his films from now on are going to contain that symmetry diorama signature style of his, I can now decide whether or not I enjoy the story and characters and sometimes animation (in this case) to say whether I love or hate one of his films. Out of all of Wes Anderson’s filmography, I only can’t stand three of his films. I didn’t care much for The Darjeering Limited. I didn’t care much for Bottle Rocket. And I can’t fucking stand The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Since Darjeering and Life Aquatic came out one after the other with each other, there was a point where I thought he was losing his touch, going the way of M. Night Shyamalan.
But then Fantastic Mr. Fox came out and all was forgiven. My top three favorite films of his are Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. ISLE OF DOGS is my very, very strong 4th favorite. (Don’t worry Andersonites, I still have an affinity for Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, a strong 5th and 6th). Isle of Dogs only proves beyond a reasonable doubt that after 2 live actions films he should always come back to stop motion animation and give us all a quirky tale with wonderful visual talent. Isle of Dogs story is simple. A dog flu epidemic has hit globally, all dogs have been shipped to this deserted trash island in order for them to live out the rest of the sad days and once they are all dead the virus is gone. A little boy pilot, named Atari Kobayashi hijacks a small personal craft and flies to the island in search of his dog Spots. Once landing, he doesn’t find Spots right off the bat but meets this alpha male dog pack led by Chief, voiced brilliantly by Bryan Cranston. There, Chief and the pack go in search for spots. Meanwhile, on the mainland, Mayor Kobayashi (he is the uncle to small boy), doesn’t want any of the dogs back ever again, even if a cure is found.
If you are a huge Wes Anderson fan and expect that very dry, weird and quirky humor you know all too well from him. It is here and it is here in spades. No disappointment on that front. Also, of course, so is his symmetrical shots and diorama like cinematography. However, while I have come to accept his style over the past several years, sometimes it still annoys me. But with Isle of Dogs, his style only enhances what is on the screen. The stop motion animation is simply beautiful, and Anderson makes sure you are too caught up with the story and characters for any of his visual style to truly take you out of the film (I think his visual style only really took me out of Life Aquatic, Darjeering limited, and parts of Grant Budapest, very small parts of that film).
The voice work, story, and characters here win the day. There are too many famous people and too many characters to list here, but Bryan Cranston, Liev Schriber, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, and Edward Norton steal the show. The story takes a few nice twists and turns to keep everything lively and the audience on their toes. Is it a family film? With a couple of “bitches” said throughout the film, maybe. But if you are offended by the Peter Rabbit poisoning that human and part of that #ButtHurt brigade, this film isn’t for you. People die and animals die. But it’s the closest family film that Wes Anderson has made yet.
If I get anymore into the film I’m going to spoil it. Let’s just say, if you are a huge Wes Anderson fan and love stop motion animation, with charming characters and a good story. Don’t miss this. I wouldn’t say it is theater essential, but it is a definite much watch for you at some point. One thing is for certain, Wes Anderson is a very talented filmmaker. The only catch is that you have to truly understand him to understand his movies. I came around several years ago and have enjoyed the ride since. If you have never gotten on the ride, this is not likely to change your mind. If you are on the ride, this is a nice big fun roller coaster type exhilarating dip that makes you want to throw your hands up in the air and cheer.