FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES (2018)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Koyu Rankin
The latest movie from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs, delivers another dose of stop-motion cinema with four-legged friends at the forefront (after 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox). With Akira Kurosawa being his main influence behind the movie and a star-studded cast providing the voices of the canine crew, the signs all pointed to another great Anderson flick.
Annoyingly, not this time.
Dystopian future Japan has been hit by a swathe of dog flu – a virus that is spreading across the country, infecting dogs left, right and centre. Having had a family history of dog issues, Megasaki City Mayor, Kobayashi (Nomura), signs a decree sending all dogs to nearby Trash Island to die of their diseases. The first mutt to be moved is Spots (Schreiber), the personal protector of Atari Kobayashi (Rankin), the orphaned nephew and ward of the mayor. Months later, Atari steals a plane and heads to Trash Island to rescue his furry friend, but after his plane crash lands, he is rescued by five other dogs – Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Duke (Goldblum), Boss (Murray) and the curmudgeonly Chief (Cranston) – and the search for Spots begins. Back on the mainland, Professor Watanabe (Ito) has found a cure for the dog flu, however, Mayor Kobayashi has his own devious plans for the incumbents of Trash Island.
A wonderful looking movie, Isle of Dogs plods along at an Anderson pace, but this time, it doesn’t work. The thin narrative is stretched to breaking point by three-quarters of the way through the movie and by the end, I felt nothing for the characters or the story in general. What I did enjoy was trying to work out who was voicing each dog/character and the differences between Cranston and Schreiber’s voice acting. Most of the humour was OK and the messages of fear, aggression and internal strife are surprisingly timely, however the disconnect I felt with the characters sunk my overall enjoyment. I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but unfortunately, I came out of the cinema feeling nothing but tired.
The voice acting is strong throughout and there are no complaints to be had regarding that. Goldblum and Murray standout with their contributions, with Goldblum’s character tasked with handling the movies more humorous moments. The dialogue was intentionally kept in the native tongue of the speaker – giving a sense of authenticity to the movie and also putting us in the shoes (paws?) of the dogs. At times, the dialogue was in Japanese without translation so some of the emotion was lost unless you speak the language. The devices and ways Anderson did translate the rest of the foreign language were clever, though, via TV translators or on-screen typing.
The story was lacking and the movie did go on for too long – probably about forty-five minutes too long to be honest. There were many times during the movie where I became bored as the bumbling story and languishing pace became painfully evident with uninteresting characters being introduced with uninteresting narratives. The entire subplot with Greta Gerwig’s Foreign exchange character could have been cut from the movie and not an awful lot would change. Alexandre Desplat’s score was excellent, however, crammed with whistles and pounding drums.
Isle of Dogs shouldn’t be compared to Fantastic Mr. Fox as that was excellent, and this…isn’t. The stop-motion work is crafted sublimely and the voice actors and uniformly excellent, unfortunately, the story, pacing and disengaging feel of the movie delivered the shot of pentobarbital that put the flick to sleep. Sadly, the shifting tones and lack of charm left me feeling like a sick dog by the end of the movie.
March 30th 2018