I’ve had a bit of an up and down relationship with the works of Wes Anderson. While I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel and enjoyed The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, his arguably most revered work, The Royal Tenenbams, left me entirely cold.
So, coming to his latest, Isle Of Dogs, meant an optimistic sense but one tempered by potential disappointment.
As the film began I was sold stylistically from the off as we were introduced to this near future Japanese world presided over by despotic mayor Kobayashi translated, occasionally, into English by a range of sometimes intentionally alienating devices and cute subtitles.
With this came the worry that this story of banished pets might be heading in all-to-whimsical and cute a direction, as a tale about a group of dogs going on an adventure easily could.
Thankfully once the story settled in and we met our heroes, a group of four dogs (voiced brilliantly by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) abandoned with the rest of their kind on Trash Island, this purely whimsical air dissipated revealing a story as rich and textured as the animation work that accompanied it.
The story goes on to follow our core band of canines as they assist a young boy (Koyu Rankin) in finding his long-lost pet and protector on the dangerous wasteland.
Along the way, as is traditional for any epic quest tale, they meet a selection of other characters (most memorable the hilarious duo of Tilda Swinton’s Oracle and F. Murray Abraham’s Jupiter) as they overcome obstacles aplenty.
The story really is only the beginning though, as one might expect. Throughout the film creates a surprisingly strong message of resistance against oppression and the power of an underdog (pun intended) group against the bigger political and corporate power – something very relevant in many facets of modern society depending on your reading.
Along with this the production itself is astonishing.
The choice of having only the voices of the dogs in English is a stroke of genius as it instantly puts us in their world and everything is seen from their level as well essentially making us one of them and siding with them and their young charge intimately. How this would play to a Japanese audience I am less sure.
And then there’s the animation.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something so well designed and animated. From the overbearing and oppressive human world to the wider open spaces of Trash Island, to the intricate and detailed characters who come to life astonishingly, it is truly wonderful to watch.
Even if it weren’t for the great story and message one could easily revel in visuals for its hundred minutes without a problem and it made me wonder if this could really be stop motion animation or some kind of clever computer trickery, though it would appear not to be.
All of this is then completed by a sense of humour that is so dead pan I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers entirely miss it, though for me it was hilarious throughout.
On a few occasions I wondered if this humour had spoiled some of the more tense moments but, as it went on, it became clear this was, in a way, part of the point, balancing the narrative’s jeopardy with tremendous comedy in a way similar to the aforementioned Grand Budapest Hotel.
In the end then Isle of Dogs is a triumph I could not recommend more and that’s speaking as a ‘cat person’, I honestly think there’s something in there for everyone.