28 March 2018 | littlemankazoo
How could you NOT love it?
In my experience, Wes Anderson films have always made great date films.
Not even joking. My first proper movie date was with my girlfriend was when we saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. We instantly fell in love with it, and it's a night I still remember fondly for the experience we had in a theater that consisted mainly of us and one other couple. It was simply magical.
And that, perhaps, is what makes me love Wes Anderson's work so much; it's simply movie magic. The man can take any setup he pleases and turn it into a whimsical, silly, but somehow all the same "Important" piece of film that holds its own weight. In short, Wes Anderson has made himself an icon when it comes to the quirky and whimsy in film. His films are a warm blanket that I love to wrap myself in.
In 'Isle of Dogs', the immediate strengths of Wes Anderson are apparent: the worlds he builds. The world of Megasaki and Trash Island are all realized in vivid detail, complete with a massive array of characters on both human and animal ends that one can recall and adore. Rather than the recent disappointment of 'Black Panther', where characterization took a backseat, this film OOZES character and a rich world you can feel. You can show me images of characters from this film and from their appearance ALONE I can tell you a story about them and what I enjoyed about them. The colorful and vast array of characters is something I think I loved most about this film, and still sticks with me even as I write this review.
What else has to be admired regarding this film is its respectful and quite incredible treatment of Japanese culture and art. Right from the get-go, Anderson makes it apparent he WANTS the culture to envelope us. All Japanese characters speak Japanese. Only 1-2 humans speak English. The dogs only speak "English" for the benefit of our understanding of their dialogue. Megasaki LOOKS like Japan. Japanese text is constantly displayed and is translated in subtitles for only our benefit. There is clear respect paid to the culture Wes wishes to show us, and for having that courage to not simplify it out of sheer convenience, I admire his work here.
Additionally, the homages to Japanese cinema, specifically Kurosawa, were welcome beyond all belief in this film. This film is hardly a zany and swift-moving animated film that one sees in this day and age. Heck, it is not even in the same league of movement and speed as Fantastic Mr. Fox was. Rather, this is a film that runs on its own pace, derived from Japanese cinema, and finds its footing in that delivery. It is a crisp, complete-feeling film that FEELS like a 2-hour film, but in the end, it barely coasts over 100 minute total...but it feels absolutely perfect in the time we are given in this rich world. In fact, by the time the film ended, I wanted MORE of the world I had seen.
The animation, as if you are even remotely surprised, is GORGEOUS. Every frame, and I mean EVERY FRAME, is just magnificent to look at. Where Fantastic Mr. Fox had the warm cinematography on its side, Isle of Dogs sports a bleaker texture, though it manages to create its own charm that way. You feel the characters' emotions through their well-animated faces, you can see every hair on the dogs' bodies move, you feel every movement of this film and adore it for how charming and Wes Anderson-y it is. Thankfully, the only thing you can NOT feel is the scent of Trash Island...
The only thing that has bugged me since seeing this film, however, is how little time the film has to really have FUN. The film is surprisingly played straight in most regards when it comes to conflict, and its tone is whimsy in some regards, but the laughs are surprisingly not as common as you would suspect them to be in a Wes Anderson product. This is not a case of a cultural barrier, but perhaps simply that the story Anderson chose to tell was far more important than including all the laughs he could. The tone of this film is "different" than most of his films, which is perhaps a good thing. It works for the film...but for most, I imagine "different Wes Anderson" won't click with everyone.
The lack of too much "fun" is noticeable, however, in that we do not see too much of the silly side of this world Wes Anderson has built. We get occasional glimpses and gags that are classic Anderson and certainly hit, but by the end, it is a surprisingly serious tone the film chooses to maintain in its climax. Again, this WORKS, but I wonder how much more I would have loved the film if it were as child-like and fun as Fantastic Mr. Fox or Grand Budapest Hotel tended to be.
The sometimes-noticeable lack of "fun", however, does not detract entirely from the enjoyment of the film itself. It is just as quirky and out-there in the best ways possible as any other Wes Anderson film, and thanks to that, the film simply beams with charm. Whether it be its animation style, Anderson's unique direction, or the fantastically unique score by Alexandre Desplate, this film sticks-out as any good Wes Anderson film should.
That said, the strongest thing (Aside from the animation) about this film is its subtle message it attempts to strike. This film is one about companionship and love, which is a feeling that often goes hand-in-paw with the subject of dogs and pets. If you have ever been a dog owner, this film WILL strike a chord with you, as it has some very important things to say about our relationship with them that I think often goes understated.
Dogs are a connection. Dogs are a beacon of loyalty and family. "Dogs" don't need to be dogs. Dogs are man's best friend.
How could you not love dogs?
How could you not love a Wes Anderson film ABOUT dogs?