Isle of Dogs follows Atari’s (voiced by Koyu Rankin) quest to search for his missing dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber) in Trash Island, a wasteland where all dogs are exiled from the city due to dog flu.
There’s a lot to love in Wes Anderson’s latest feature, his first in four years since The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and also marked his second stop-motion animation after Fantastic Mr Fox (2009).
First, the stop-motion animation itself is lovingly rendered with such meticulous care. Every frame is visually captivating, right up to the point where it’s a marvel the way Anderson and his team of animators rendered the dogs’ furs as naturalistic as possible. Looking this from the visual standpoint, Isle of Dogs is a technical accomplishment as always. After all, this is Wes Anderson we are talking about.
Kudos also go to Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod’s elaborate production design as well as Alexandre Desplat’s eclectic yet vibrant score, which is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese music while favouring lots of percussions and drums (in this case, taiko). Tristan Oliver’s cinematography brilliantly evokes the visual styles of Akira Kurosawa, specifically the deep-focus shot and wide-screen compositions.
Speaking of Akira Kurosawa, it’s obvious that Anderson pays heavy tribute to the late legendary Japanese filmmaker as well as Japanese cinema of yesteryear in general. Fans of Akira Kurosawa would recognise some of Anderson’s homage ranging from 1949’s Stray Dog (the part where Atari is on the quest to search for his missing dog, Spots) and 1954’s Seven Samurai (the daylight showdown between the two opposing pack of dogs) to 1970’s Dodes’ka-den (the landfill setting of Trash Island).
Likewise, you will find plenty of Anderson’s trademark deadpan and sly humour while the all-star voice cast each deliver colourful performances.
But Isle of Dogs is not without its fair share of flaws. Clocking at 101 minutes, Anderson’s screenplay stretches too thin to fulfil its feature-length duration. Make no mistake, the movie did begin promisingly and even managed to build on a confident pace. But then comes the second half, which gradually wears off right down to a lengthy third-act.
If only Anderson could have tightened the pace and scale down on his typically self-indulgent direction, Isle of Dogs might deserve a place as one of the best movies of the year. Still, it remains a reasonably solid effort as long as you can overlook some of the movie’s shortcomings.