Review: Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs (Source: themoviedb.org)

He’s done it again. Wes Anderson is easily the most visually unique filmmaker in this day and age. The quirky dialogue, distinct visual pallets, and beautifully framed shots have become a thing of legend each and every time Anderson adds to his filmography. I sincerely believed that he checkmated himself with The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’ve been happily proven wrong. His new picture, Isle of Dogs, is a feast on the eyes as much as it is a storytelling triumph, and easily the best film of the year thus far.

To divulge any part of the story would do a film a disservice; there is a story to be told, and the film is hell bent on telling it, surprises and all. Just know that there is a literal island of dogs, and a pact encounters a boy determined to find his estranged pet. What follows is a hilarious, touching, and visually astonishing achievement of stopmotion animation.

Easily the selling point of this film is the animation, and the stop motion aspect only accounts for half of its brilliance. There are tons of paintings, drawings and other visual motifs throughout with such an incredible attention to detail, making the Japanese archipelago setting much more unique and alluring to the viewer. Anyone familiar with Anderson’s filmography will feel right at home. Every set is made with meticulous detail, and there the camerawork perfectly equals that sense of precision. What comes out of that effort are beautifully symmetrical frames of film that can easily be screencapped and be set as desktop wallpaper. This feels like a place that the characters truly inhabit and call home. Even though the film is animated, the world is considerably more realized and immersive than the plethora of universes and worlds other films depict, and Wes Anderson makes it look effortless. This is a director at his absolute best, a master at the height of his powers.

Isle of Dogs follows suit with Anderson’s other films in that there is a sarcastically huge, star studded supporting cast that portray these larger than life characters. You’ll recognize the familiar Anderson favorites such as Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Edward Norton (and waaaaaay more), but it’s the criminally underrated Bryan Cranston who leads the pact (pun shamelessly intended). His voice is instantly recognizable, especially if you’re familiar with his work, but over time, and I’m not sure if it’s just me, the celebrity of the actor fades into the background. Maybe it’s the writing, considering each character is given a distinct personality from another. The actors are practically blessed with a script that knows how to play on each performer’s strengths, leading to an array of characters without a single, solitary weak link. Every character is written to narrative perfection, and given this is a cast that can rival Infinity War, this is no small feat.

This is a film that, like dogs, has infinite charm. The characters are so well written, and the situations depicted develop them in such a satisfying fashion. There is a sense of humor here that, if done by a lesser writer or director, would have disastrously awkward results. Wes Anderson is the king of making the awkward funny, to make the uncomfortable charming. Isle of Dogs is a testament to Wes Anderson’s knack for storytelling. There is a language barrier aspect of the film that I wouldn’t dare spoil here, but know it plays to the characters and the audience in a strikingly effective way that doesn’t seem forced or overtly obvious. That is a trait of a genius storyteller, and blessed are we to be in the presence of one.

Final Grade:  A+

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