Anderson Impresses with Signature Style in “Isle of Dogs”

Andrew Mello, Contributing Writer

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Falcon Rating: 3.5/4

The opening scene of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the telling of a centuries-old prophecy of a war between dogs and the cat-loving humans they oppose. This starts the movie on the right foot by reminding you not to take this comical movie about talking dogs too seriously.

Isle of Dogs is one of those stories that can only work on screen. The depth added by seeing characters and worlds come to life transforms an alright story into a great movie. The idea of a pack of talking dogs guiding a young boy on a transformative journey across a Japanese island is ridiculous if you just hear about it, but seeing such otherworldly images oddly grounds Isle of Dogs in reality and keeps you invested throughout this strange, love letter of a trip.

Anyone who’s seen Anderson’s other films will know that even when he gets other things somewhat wrong, his signature visual stylization is so enjoyable that you can forgive some slight missteps. Often, he’s labeled as painfully aesthetic, but if you’re a fan of his symmetrical style, he’s the best you can find.

His particular knack for visual comedy and sight gags are always the highlights of his movies, and they shine through here. One joke he uses throughout is having things leave and enter the frame in funny ways, like a character dropping suddenly from centerframe, or something jumping out from the sides. This kind of casual visual comedy blends the scenes together with enough effortless flow that you hardly notice how much fun you’re having.

If I were to peg down one aspect that doesn’t maintain the line of quality in Anderson’s films, it’s usually the plot. You can usually pinpoint every beat of the story from the very beginning.

But here, Anderson uses the prophecy at the beginning as a way of saying, “The fun here is in the journey, not in the destination.” The main attraction of Isle of Dogs is the drop-dead gorgeous stop motion animation. Every frame you see was painstakingly shut and then reopened. When a breeze tugs at the dogs’ fur, it had to be done by hand. The fruit of this labor is some of the best animation work I’ve seen in a long time.

About half way into Isle of Dogs, a comparison to 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings popped into my head and hasn’t left since. Both are (somewhat) stop motion movies with young boys going on a journey through an Asian-inspired world, accompanied by a colorful cast of A-List talent. Both movies recognize their main attraction is to show fascinating and impressive imagery.

I think where Isle of Dogs supersedes Kubo is in the comedic tone overlaying it for the entire runtime; Isle of Dogs never takes itself very seriously. It recognizes that a movie about talking dogs is ridiculous, and it has its fun working inside the absurdity.

This is one of the easiest recommendations I can give, because of the universal appeal, creativity, and easy fun offered in this film. If your eyes feel a bit sore from a long day looking at papers and computer screens, treat them to this movie about cute dogs.

This piece also appears in our May print edition.