Isle of Dogs: Film Review
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura
Director: Wes Anderson
Propaganda, genocide, Japanese homage, accusations levelled of cultural appropriation and a white saviour - Wes Anderson's latest quirk fest, the stop animation Isle of Dogs, certainly has it all.
Set on Trash Island off the coast of Japan, it centres on a colony of canines, cut from their owner's lives at the behest of Prime Minister Kobayashi (Nomura) after an outbreak of dog flu and snout fever. Ripped from civilisation and living a little like Lord of The Flies with pockets of rabid ruffians looking for food, a group of four dogs one day see a visitor come to the island.
This is the little pilot, a boy looking simply for his lost pooch.
Taking the boy under their collective wings, the dogs, along with stray interloper Chief (Cranston, rich and gravelly), set out to find the Little Pilot's long lost pal - as a conspiracy on the mainland develops under Kobayashi's watch.
As stop animation and as a follow up to the stirling work done in Fantastic Mr Fox, West Anderson's latest is really second to none in the animation stakes, with everything painted through with the typical Anderson whimsy and quirk.
It's also second to none in the hipster quirk stakes as well - and towards the end, the light fancy edges threaten to cloy and choke rather than assume the desired effect. Plus, there's a very sudden about face for one of the main characters which comes from nowhere and tonally jars.
But in terms of engaging a quest and Samurai element to the proceedings, the group's search certainly feels formed and is intriguing enough - even if it feels like little happens and they simply trudge from one element to the next, leading to a meandering feeling.
That's perhaps the joy of what Anderson's committed to the screen here - it feels slight, and light, with rafts of once over lightly, rather than big emotional heft - which may rankle some viewers.
However, with Chief's back story and the homage to Japan and its culture, Isle of Dogs is as traditional a animal adventure as anything Disney has put out - even if there are a few darker elements.
The one majorly troubling part of the story is the way that Little Pilot gets sidelined later on in favour of Greta Gerwig's white saviour Tracey who breaks open the conspiracy. It's hard to justify this, or whether it's a sly subversion of the dumb American cracking open the whole plot that's within (this may be granting Anderson a little too much space).
It feels like a misfire in a film that works to incorporate its cultural elements into the symmetry and tapestry of its film (although this has seen the film have criticisms levelled at it) and really does stick out like a sore thumb.
Ultimately though, Isle of Dogs, while it threatens to collapse under the weight of the quirk and times of occasional tedium it's created, is a film that nearly hits some of Fantastic Mr Fox's animated, but not heart, highs. It may lack the spontaneity and chaos of the previous entry, and some of the lighter touches (certainly, when it does cut loose it's a lot more fun and engaging), but it's definitely proof that stop-animation isn't a dying art form - and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.