By Maggie McPhee
VANCOUVER – Isle of Dogs raises the bar for contemporary American animations. Wes Anderson approached his stop-motion fable with the same attention to detail and craftsmanship as the great Hayao Miyazaki, elevating him as America’s auteur animator equivalent. A team of 27 animators laboured endlessly to imbue their puppets with life, emotion, and vitality. They handcrafted every object and assigned specialists for emotional nuance, action scenes, and comedic timing. The team’s work, partnered with Wes’ unmistakable style, birthed a film of visual splendor, and French composer Alexander Desplat delivered a soundtrack to match.
Unfortunately, the story and characters don’t live up to the film’s sensory resplendence.
Dogs takes place in a dystopian future Japan, while the hound-hating municipal governor quarantines all canines on Trash Island due to a “dog-flu” outbreak. When 12-year-old Atari crash-lands his plane on the island, a pack of pups accompanies him on the search for his lost dog, Spots. The fictional dog-hating culture traces back to ancient Japanese dynasties, granting the film a scope too epic for its tale of love between boy and dog.
A chasm between the plot’s scope and artistic minutiae leaves much room to fall flat. The all-star cast, comprised of Anderson veterans Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton – and two dozen other mentionable names – packs Dogs with a lot of weight. But the story flits between the government bodies, pro-dog activists, and Trash Island ruffians so fast there’s no time to get to know their characters in depth. It’s difficult to care about what’s at stake when we aren’t invested in who’s involved.
The film flows at a brisk pace as a determined camera sweeps the audience through bright and inventive landscapes. However, there is no evident reason for a Japanese setting other than an aesthetic one, and the film has been criticized for its tone-deaf appropriations of Japanese culture. Perhaps this prioritization of aesthetics is the film’s greatest downfall. Anderson’s clinical attention to detail left him with a case of tunnel vision that compromised the core of his story.film review, isle of dogs, Wes Anderson