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Tuesday, 15 October 2019

REWIND REVIEW: Isle Of Dogs

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Wes Anderson.

Cast: (voices of) Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B. Vance.

They hadn't seen a tennis ball like it since the last time someone had held up a tennis ball.
When Wes Anderson announced he was making an adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book Fantastic Mr Fox using stop-motion animation, it seemed ridiculous in the extreme. Sure, there were some animated shots using the old-school technique in The Life Aquatic, but nothing in his back catalogue of offbeat comedies hinted at a full-blown animated family film.

In hindsight it still doesn't make sense. But it's one of his best and most complete movies. And without it, we wouldn't have Isle Of Dogs, his second film to be made using the jerky animation technique pioneered by the likes of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

Isle Of Dogs is rife with Anderson's droll humour and cinematic symmetry, as well as his bizarre subject matter. It's easy to compare it to Fantastic Mr Fox because of its delivery, but its intricate plotting is more like the elaborate The Grand Budapest Hotel, though less successful. Still, it's unmissable for Anderson fans (who have probably already seen it by now, but, whatever).

It's the story of a boy named Atari (Rankin), who heads to the titular island is search of his dog Spots (Schreiber). Like all canines in a futuristic Japan, Spots has been exiled to the isle, ostensibly as a way to deal with several rampant doggy diseases.

But conspiracies are afoot, and while Atari and a band of brave dogs cross the isle in search of Spots, plucky exchange student Tracy (Gerwig) is back on the mainland unravelling bizarre webs of political intrigue that could spell the end of caninekind.


The bonkers plot, as enjoyably nuts as it is, is unnecessarily complicating. The film is better paced and has more heart and fun when it sticks with Atari and his posse of pooches (voiced by Cranston, Murray, Balaban, Goldblum and Norton) on the island. Their personalities and the deadpan deliveries are more than enough to carry the film. Plus with a voice cast like that, why would you want to spend screentime elsewhere?

The B-plot with the exchange student does ratchet up the climax of the film, but at the expense of dragging down other sections. Still, Anderson's unique voice and comedic touch carries it through the lesser moments.

Isle Of Dogs is admirable for being Anderson's most adventurous endeavour and it succeeds largely on his sheer force of will. It shouldn't be as humourous or engaging or as empathetic as it is, even though it's essentially a boy-and-dog movie. It's a very, very strange boy-and-dog movie, filled with Anderson's passion for weird shots, strange zooms, and odd story beats, as well as combining multiple animation styles. Yet it works, in a way only Wes Anderson can make such things work.

Alexandre Desplat's score is great if overbearing in places, the voice cast is excellent, and the production design is remarkable. The models themselves are incredible, but the worlds created here - in particular the various areas of the island - are detailed and visually stunning, begging for repeat viewings.

Isle Of Dogs is messy but extremely enjoyable. In anyone else's filmography it would be a standout, but Anderson has so many great films that push this toward the middle or even lower half of the pack. Still, it's sheer inventiveness and willingness to be different is admirable, and make it a vital entry into his increasingly weird oeuvre.

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