In 2009, Wes Anderson mixed his signature cinematic style with meticulously handcrafted stop motion in Fantastic Mr Fox; a move that created, in my eyes, his greatest film to date without which I may not be writing this review today. Nearly a decade later, he has finally returned to the world of animation with Isle of Dogs, a dark fairy tale exploring the fall of the canine population in a dystopian future Japan.
Following the exile of all dogs to a nearby trash island dubbed the Isle of Dogs, we pick up with man’s best friend as a little pilot crashes onto the desolate landscape and one pack steps up to help him find his own lost pet. If one were to describe Wes Anderson’s filmography, they would likely focus on the whimsy and kitschy elements of his style yet in Isle of Dogs, Anderson surprisingly brings forward the underlying melancholy and darkness within his films to the surface; telling a story in animation yet making it is his most violent and depressing to date. This isn’t a criticism however and the change is very welcome to help it stand out from a flawless collection of films. The other uniquely strong aspect is the breathtaking visual style, using Andersons already immaculate cinematography and set design but giving it a Japanese coating that blends traditional costumes and architecture with a futurist aesthetic.
Not only is this Andersons bleakest film to date but in many ways it is his funniest. The hyperbolic expressions of the stop-motion figures offering greater range and potential for stylistic moments that simply fits well with his already exaggerated style. While Fantastic Mr Fox used anthropomorphism to turn the characters into neurotic hipsters who struggled with their animal urges, Isle of Dogs finds humour in the unique perspective of the canine population and simply translates their natural thoughts and urges into English. Despite all this praise, Isle of Dogs is in no way perfect and may, in fact, be one of the lesser films in Anderson’s filmography. This mainly comes down to the wide cast of dogs and humans feeling overwhelmed by the extensive world building around them; the supporting characters just don’t feel as instantly iconic as the likes from Moonrise Kingdom or The Royal Tenenbaums.
Isle of Dogs is yet another beautiful work of art from Wes Anderson. Fusing Japanese culture and stop-motion animation to create a wonderful new cinematic world that’s equal parts horrifying and hilarious.