via Two Faced
Accomplished director Wes Anderson delivers an entertainingly irreverent stop-motion send up of both Akira Kurosawa’s filmography, and the Rankin/Bass holiday classics.
Isle of Dogs tells the story of a dystopian Japan, where rampant breeding and disease causes the government to exile its canine population to an island of trash. From there, a pack of the trash island’s inhabitants join a young boy on a quest to find his former pet and guard dog, as well uncover the conspiracy created to demonize man’s best friend.
The film features a star studded voice acting cast, with Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, and Liev Schiber all lending their recognizable yet welcome talent. In fact, it is almost only through the dogs that said dialogue is heard, as the film’s human characters speak almost entirely in Japanese, save for an acne faced, blonde afro wearing American foreign exchange student voiced by Greta Gerwig.
Wes Anderson fully embraces the derisively deadpan humor heretofore more conservatively present in his films, with the already ludicrous plot, foreshadowed in the prologue with backstory dealing with the samurai era, being played unquestionably straight. Due to this, much of the film’s humor is able to broadcast itself enough to be seen as a joke without overstaying its welcome. The plot’s structure, as well as much of the animation and musical cues, are throwbacks to classic Japanese films of old, with the spirited scenery and story emphasizing the exotic and “foreign” nature of the film.
The political implications of the film are eerily reminiscent of a number of current regimes, though never does the plot come off as pedantic, preachy, or propagandized. Some of the more obvious political allusions are aided by 1940s style news broadcasts used to brainwash the citizenry.
The stop motion animation is top notch, showcasing emotions and fluidity that highlight the pros of older animation without any of the cons. Never coming off as cheap or overly cartoony, the animation instead is used to create a myriad of scenes that stand out now especially in the days of reliance on CGI. One particular animation quirk, played for laughs, is the old school “fight cloud”, in which characters engage in imperceptible fisticuffs while surrounded by a miasma of dust.
One criticism of the film’s storytelling would be some of the plot conveniences found towards the climax, such as two characters being born in the same litter, and a theretofore barely used background character being instrumental in stopping the final scheme of the villainous Japanese government. The film’s conclusion also feels slightly dragged out, and could’ve easily achieved the same story beats in fewer or quicker scenes.
Overall, Isle of Dogs is an outrageously satisfying cross-cultural comedy, with voice work and animation to match its vibrant, eccentric, and original storyline.
8.5 (Blonde) Afros out of 10