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Review: Wildly original Wes Anderson stop-motion Isle of Dogs is unmissable

PUBLISHED: 13:09 29 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:13 29 March 2018

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Archant

For his follow-up to The Grand Budapest, the writer-director returns to stop-motion animation he used on his quirky adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox for a offbeat buddy comedy about a group of dogs banished to an island in Japan.

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century FoxWes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Isle of Dogs (PG)

****

This stop-motion animation about a future (but not Futuristic) Japan where all the dogs have been scapegoated and banished to an island of trash, is an extraordinary, unclassifiable, unique wonder that is a little bit up itself.

After finally making a breakout hit that everybody loved, The Grand Budapest Hotel, this sees Wes Anderson, the Scorsese of Twee, go back to being a bit precious and playing to his coterie of admirers.

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century FoxWes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Budapest began with a narrator relay race back through time, the film flicking through a series of potential framing devices before arriving at the heart of the film.

It was a tricksy opening but rather than alienating viewers it sucked them in.

Isle of Dogs opens with a prologue and a barrage of information, as it instals various layers of visual and aural filters between you and the narrative.

The film’s Japanese inspiration includes adopting their habit of filling a TV screen with boxes of text as it tries to outline its story about a cat-loving corrupt politician in Megasaki (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) turning the whole human population against their dogs.

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century FoxWes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

He decrees that the only way to eradicate an outbreak of virulent snout fever is to exile canines to a remote island, where Megasaki dumps its residential waste.

Voters comply and the Mayor’s 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) is forced to bid farewell to his shaggy companion, Spots. But he defies the Mayor and menacing henchman Major Domo (Akira Takayama) to steal a plane and fly to the island to be reunited with his pet.

There he befriends a disparate pack of mangy mutts including Chief (Bryan Cranston), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). They embark on a daredevil mission to overturn the Mayor’s edict.

I don’t think it can be overstated just how totally original, and visually remarkable the film is. For Anderson, the appeal of stop-motion animation is more in the stop than the motion.

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century FoxWes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Anderson has always been a director to care about every detail of the frame and you can see how rigorously controlled every moment of the film is. Look how often the frame will be a face placed dead centre, to give the film the simplicity of a child’s animation.

This animation technique is a perfect vehicle for his droll comic sensibility. It may also be some nod to Kabuki theatre.

I’m not sure any other movie works quite like this, not even the other Anderson ones, and I’m sure it’s wild originality will be enough for many viewers.

The style though does work in opposition to its narrative. His previous animation Fantastic Mr Fox had the outline of a Roald Dahl story to keep it moving.

Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century FoxWes Anderson Isle of Dogs. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Anderson’s script (from a story concocted with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) has no real propulsion.

It is contrived and wacky and so posed and outre that the impact of all these beautiful frozen moments of oddball deadpan joy is dulled and it doesn’t really go anywhere. But even so, it’s kind of unmissable.

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