(Fox Searchlight Pictures)
I’m never that thrilled about Wes Anderson movies. I don’t get into the melancholic remove, the endless symmetrical shots, the mopey Bill Murray. His movies just don’t have any energy, and I find that his movies don’t say anything that important, that their style far outweighs their substance. They’re the Transformers of hipster-dom.
Having said all that, Isle of Dogs seems to be the least Wes Anderson-y of Wes Anderson movies. It follows the story of a boy who travels to an island full of trash, where all dogs from a fictional Japanese city have been marooned, to search for his dog. The point of view, however, is largely from the dogs. The Japanese characters all speak Japanese, and sometimes the audience is treated to a clever means of translation and sometimes not.
The story is very straightforward as far as Wes Anderson movies go (we are here. We need to go there). I often find his movies hard to follow, and find myself unsure of where the momentum-less story is going. I didn’t feel that way with Isle of Dogs. In this way, I was able to enjoy the excellent voice cast, sense of place, and clever story without feeling I needed to decipher some hidden meaning behind the aesthetic.
Like his other movies, I don’t think Isle of Dogs is trying to say anything special. Also the aesthetic and strangely violent scenes may be off-putting for younger audiences. It’s an animated movie for Wes Anderson fans, and a quirky but enjoyable piece of disposable escapism for the rest of us.
It’s amazing how expectations frame your experience of a movie: high leads to disappointment, low leads to pleasantly surprised. I went into Isle of Dogs with low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. Sorry, I’m just not that into Wes Anderson. It all feels like so much style over so little substance, and I find his meticulous style alienating. I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom well enough, but I honestly can’t remember what they’re about, the characters’ names, or anything beyond the word “charming.”
So I was pleasantly surprised while watching Isle of Dogs to find that it had a very straightforward plot and relatable characters. It’s about corrupt, cat-loving politicians banishing all the dogs, and the children who try to fight the power. More specifically, it’s about a little boy looking for his dog and the stray that begrudgingly assists him in his quest. I thought the voice casting was spot-on rather than feeling like “Oh, here’s the usual Wes Anderson gang.” Bryan Cranston shines particularly as the hard-to-love stray. There are some deeper themes to mine from Isle of Dogs, however, it still doesn’t rise very far above “charming” for me.