Isle of Dogs is the most Wes Anderson-ed Wes Anderson film that Wes Anderson has ever directed. Anyone who has seen any film he has made in the past decade will be familiar with the unique set of clichés that come with his films. There is a massive cast, lots of dry and subtle humor, all manner of strange quirks and possibly the most unique movement relative to the camera in any film being made these days. Oh, and the film is pretty good too.
Isle of Dogs takes place in a strange time period of Japan which seems to simultaneously in both the past and the future. We are told that it takes place in the future, yet all of the technology looks like a cold war-era imagining of what future technology will look like. None of this is strange at all, because it is a Wes Anderson film, and everything is strange. Within this world, there is a legend of the Kobayashi clan which greatly dislikes dogs. They in fact like them so much, that there was a war many centuries ago where the Kobayashi clan sought to take out all of the dogs in Japan, only to be thwarted by a boy samurai who fights for the dogs. Once the leader of the Kobayashi clan is defeated, life returns to normal with dogs serving as man’s best friend- at least is does until mayor Kobayashi, secretly continuing the clan’s ideals, sends all dogs in Megasaki (the fictional city that serves as the film’s setting) to trash island.
If any of that sounds at all outlandish, silly, or even straight up stupid, then it has accomplished its goal. For the film, we follow a pack of dogs who have banded together on trash island to stay alive voiced by many of the usual players in Anderson films. A boy name Atari lands his small and lousy looking plane on trash island in search of his dog, Spots, and so our little adventure within this film begins. A few folksy montages mixed in with scenes that necessary for the story to progress before leading up to an over the top and fairly ridiculous ending and the film is over, and most people have likely had a good time.
Let’s stop dancing around the issue and get right to it: this is a Wes Anderson film. If you have seen any of the ones he has made recently, then you already know about 90% of what this film has to offer. After a couple trailers, you may know about 95%. Your enjoyment is going to depend wholly on your appreciation or tolerance of his very, very, very distinct and unique filmmaking style. To his credit, there is almost no one in the industry who can make a film like he does.
Few directors are as adept at playing with the frame as Anderson, for they often look more like a diorama than a film scene- even the live action ones.
Functionally, it is almost as if the worlds within his films only exist on two plains: left and right of the camera, and towards and away from it. There is going to be very little diagonal movement of the characters within the frame, and even rarer are the moments where the camera is at an angle that even resembles something dynamic. When this style is applied to one of his stop-motion-animated features, it gives off the impression that you are watching a pop-up book play out before you.
As for the people carrying out these almost unnatural movements, that is fairly distinct as well. He can somehow convince some of the biggest names in the film industry today to play what is almost a bit part in his films. To calls these ensemble casts would be an understatement. In addition to the large core group that he features in practically every one of this films, he brings in high profile actors for one time roles to lead the films. Going back just ten years: George Clooney in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bruce Willis in Moonrise Kingdom, Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Bryan Cranston as the lead for Isle of Dogs. Directors always have a group of actors they like to work with, but perhaps no director has more than Anderson.
Wes Anderson has been making films since the mid 90’s and Isle of Dogs is his ninth feature length film, and he only seems to be doubling down and committing to his patented style even more with every film. If you are not fond of his films by now, then Isle of Dogs does nothing that is going to change your mind. Conversely, if you dig the originality of his films and the opportunity to catch a very different film before the full force of summer hits, then this is as good a chance as you are going to get. If you’ve enjoyed his past few films, then you are most certainly going to enjoy this one.
However, when thinking back on it, I cannot recall it as clearly or distinctly as I can some of his other films. Even further, I am not thinking of it as fondly as I expected to. It is a very high quality film, as all of his are, but I don’t feel as compelled to recommend it or support it the way I did with each of this three previous films. Perhaps some fatigue is setting in. it is not anything major yet, but it may be bubbling up behind the scenes. While his style and films are still very enjoyable and among the most well made films in any year they are released, there will definitely come a time when people start to turn on him.
Every director at a high level has a distinct style that shapes all of their films, though none of them are as upfront as Anderson. There are some out there who have already grown tired of his story-book presentation, and it he continues to sink further and further into it, that number will only grow. I don’t think it is going to happen with this one, but there very well may come a day when the release of a new Wes Anderson film is not viewed with much enthusiasm or anticipation. In the meantime, let’s just be sure to enjoy listening to Jeff Goldblum speak as a gossipy dog living on a secluded island of garbage who constantly knows all of the latest rumors despite living on a secluded island of garbage.