Wes Anderson and stop-motion can’t go wrong, right? Correct, it can’t and Isle of Dogs has proven that once again. As you might’ve known, this film appeared on my 5 Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2018 list that I published at the beginning of this year. My motivation for putting it on that list was “Wes Anderson and another stop motion film. Is there anything else you need to know?”, I was confident it was going to be great. I knew it’d be good. And it absolutely was, though there were some flaws.
In a stop-motion film, the visuals and animation are without a doubt the most important aspect of the film and as to be expected from Anderson, these were fantastic. The cinematography was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous colors, shot compositions and creative use of lighting. The way Anderson lit his shots was different from how he does so otherwise, but here it was done very inventively in. It gave the film some more visual flair and made it stand out of his other films, where he didn’t use lighting as such a prominent tool.
The animation too was stunning, some of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a major step up from the animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox, where I found that the stop-motion was rather stilted, but I also thought that it gave the film somewhat of a character. In Isle of Dogs, the stop-motion was very fluid and incredibly satisfying to look at, especially one sushi cutting scene, which was absurdly well done. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson already played a bit with 2d animation, as did he in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and now in Isle of Dogs, he brings that passion to the screen by using it when something was shown on television or on a monitor. This was both a fun gimmick and a creative decision that I deeply enjoyed.
Not only did he step up his animation game, the set pieces too were an amazing improvement over Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not very often did he re-use the same set, so we got to see a variety of finely crafted stunningly looking surroundings that made this small animated world feel very big. His character design was incredible as well, with each dog looking different from another. They all felt unique and as if their exterior told us something about their interior. I really liked the material they made the dogs out of, which is by my guess the same they utilized in Anderson’s previous animated feature. The material moved throughout scenes and it gave off a very cool and semi-realistic look.
The amount of detail in the shots was also pretty amazing. You’re constantly scanning the shot, looking for tiny things that add to the film. It never treats the audience as stupid and it requires you to look around the shots to follow the story. It’s fun visually, really. That’s all I’m trying to say.
Wes also brought his trademark dark comedy to the film, which worked incredibly well, as did practically all of the humor. There were surprisingly many visual jokes and ongoing gags, and both were constantly fun to see. You’d think that these running jokes would grow tired after a while, but they’re constantly unexpected and even self-referential, which makes them even better.
I also was a big fan of how Wes decided to let the Japanese speak Japanese and have them translated by an American translator. This too could lead to some humorous moments, but it also placed us next to the dogs, who spoke English and weren’t able to understand the people around them. It also gives the film a more unique feel and once again proves how the film didn’t think that the audience was stupid, but that he could rely on the translator or visual ways to tell his story.
And I feel like it’s a bit unnecessary to say that the voice acting was fantastic as well. Something that is necessary to bring some attention to are the film’s flaws…
…that I’ll happily discuss right now. I’ve been praising the film non-stop by now, but I wouldn’t call the film perfect. There’s one subplot not involving the dogs about an American exchange student who’s protesting against the antagonist of the film. I felt that this whole story was rather unnecessary mainly because it didn’t add anything to the film; it only took away from the viewing experience. Her speaking English and being able to communicate with her other students in English is completely contradictory to what the film was trying to achieve with the language barrier in the first place. She wasn’t entirely pointless, though, because eventually she does have an impact on the overall story, but I felt like they could’ve solved that with some better writing. The film came to a complete halt whenever she was on screen, which is a shame since the film already suffered from pacing issues. Lots of scenes went by incredibly fast, especially in the third act which seemingly came falling from the sky. The dialogue’s spoken very quickly which makes the film very hard to follow at times. Said dialogue was decent, but there were also some odd lines in there which made some conversations not flow right.
Isle of Dogs is a fantastic stop-motion film; it might even be the best one I’ve ever seen. The cinematography was gorgeous, the set pieces and character design too were done fabulously and the usage of lighting was very creative. Anderson made some creative decisions that made the film feel different from any other of his own films and other animation films in general and that sense of uniqueness added to the film in terms of enjoyability. The film’s not flawless, though. There’s one subplot in particular that I felt was not really that useful, the pacing was sometimes a tad bit too fast and there were some lines of dialogue that didn’t really flow right. All in all, it’s still an awesome film and I was far from disappointed.