The closing feature for the SXSW film festival this year was Wes Anderson’s stop-motion film “Isle of Dogs.” After an impressive, crowd-pleasing line-up for the festival, there could not have been a better movie to finish on a high note. Anderson outdoes himself yet again by delivering a unique, fresh picture infused with his signature qualities which keep audiences coming back for more, time after time.
“Isle of Dogs” is not Anderson’s first run at a stop-motion classic, but it definitely benefits from more polish than its worthy predecessor “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” There is not a single frame of the movie that isn’t awe-inspiring. The richness of the color palette is incredibly well done, even when depicting literal garbage. The stylization is further supported by the strength of Japanese culture and language throughout the movie. Despite being stop-motion, the settings are vibrant and teeming with life and a sense of connectedness. The use of English translations of Japanese kanji (writing symbols) marries the visuals with fast-paced storytelling and keeps the pace engaging for the entire duration of the film.
The movie features an all-star ensemble cast of fan favorite actors and to even list ten of them would not do the entire cast justice. Anderson wrote most of the roles with specific actors in mind and the payoff is evident. The director’s insistence on Japanese characters strictly speaking Japanese (often unsubtitled even) was a questionable characteristic at first, but it quickly felt natural and kept the cultural immersion engaged. With help from the state interpreter and narrator, played by Frances McDormand and Courtney B. Vance respectively, the plot never suffered because of it.
“Isle of Dogs” is a lot of things. It’s a comedy but has strong emotional moments of both fear and sadness. It’s a playful, bright romp with commentary on authoritarian regimes and tyranny. It’s for people who love dogs or even people who just like the idea of furry companions. Even people indifferent to dogs, if that is such a thing, can find the humanity in the canine protagonists and fall in love with the young hero and his quest for justice, family and community.
With a wide theater release planned for this Friday, “Isle of Dogs” is sure to please audiences of every stripe and will surely be included in lists of 2018’s most extraordinary and memorable films for those with a passion for good cinema.
– Zach Ienatsch is a journalism senior