Isle of Dogs (2018)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Isle of Dogs</strong> (2018)

(On Cable TV, December 2018) I’m still not sure how or why I did an almost complete about-face on Wes Anderson’s work at the time of Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I’m happy to report that Isle of Dogs doesn’t change my mind: It’s a whimsical, highly enjoyable film that continues to show why quirky filmmakers such as Anderson remain an essential part of the cinematic landscape. Boldly dashing into a fantasy version of Japan where a city has exiled all dogs to a nearby island, the film describes a group of dogs as they meet and provide assistance to a boy looking for his own dog on the island. As would befit an Anderson film, the setting is a blend of 1950s aesthetics, 1984s themes, 2010s technology and timeless shrink-wrapping. The stop-motion animation helps a lot in clearly establishing the off-kilter lack of realism of the premise, with new development being greeted with acceptance even as outlandish as they are. Robodogs? Sure, why not. The tone of the film is a quirky deadpan, sure to reach a few viewers and leave others completely cold. There’s some great voice talent in the mix, with Edward Norton in the lead. Unusually enough for someone who doesn’t take much interest in soundtracks, I found myself quite taken with the distinctive percussion-heavy score from Alexandre Desplat. As with most things with the film, reaction is likely to be idiosyncratic—I absolutely love some segments of the movie, and found myself grinning ear-to-ear at frequent moments, but I can see how it would not work for others. I’m not sure what possessed Anderson to give himself so entirely to Japanese imagery for the film, but I’m not sure it amounts to cultural appropriation—perhaps aesthetic tourism, finely observed and reverently respectful. I just know that it’s one of my favourite movies of the year, and one that I will enjoy revisiting before long. [February 2019: I tried showing Isle of Dogs to a group of cinephile friends as part of a pre-Oscar warmup, and the reaction was … divided. I still loved it.]

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