“…Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live…” – Wayward Wolf.
Given that I live locally to it, viewing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs on London’s own Isle of Dogs, E14, seemed like something of a ‘must do’. Unsurprisingly London’s purpose-built financial district overspill has notably fewer stray mutts running about, and its city-scape, whilst to some extent being overwhelmingly vulgar in its 1980’s faux-grandiose misadvised styling, is admittedly a lot more pleasing on the eye than the island wasteland setting of Anderson’s new stop-motion animated feature film.
An aesthetically-pleasing backdrop Anderson’s film may well lack in places, but there is something of an inherent beauty about this pain-stakingly detailed animation. Indeed, visually there is a huge amount to admire here.
Built upon a back story that tells of much historic conflict between cat and dog lovers, the city of Nagasaki is, according to its pro-cat leader, Mayor Ayasabi, now completely over-run with diseased dogs to such an extent that there is no other solution than to annex them all to a neighbouring waste island.
With this in mind the Mayor embarks upon a major mutt-move, and with it, what he hopes will be the complete eradication of the lingering threat of mutated human strains of both Dog Flu and Snout Fever.
As something of a symbolic gesture, Ayasabi decrees that the first dog to be re-located will be Spots, a handsome confident canine who just so happens to be the appointed guard dog of the Mayor’s own adopted son, Atari.
This, needless to say, does not go down too well with Atari who proceeds to somehow bravely fly a small one-seater plane across from the mainland to the waste island in a bid to rescue his beloved mutt.
Here he encounters one of the ragtag packs of hounds with whom he develops a strong and trusting bond, and together they set about attempting to locate Atari’s faithful best friend.
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the pro-dog movement is painfully close to formulating an effective serum to combat these perilous doggy diseases, with a view to re-introducing the annexed dogs back into society. Yet it seems that the Mayor and his allies, with sinister motivations, will stop at nothing to shut them down.
But the Mayor hadn’t banked upon a small and very vocal minority of young Social Justice Warriors relentlessly pursuing him, determined to expose his crooked ways by lifting the blindfolds from the eyes of the hoodwinked masses and snapping them out of their docile subservience.
No matter which way you dress it up, Isle of Dogs, is a heavily political piece providing many layers of additional depth to this, literally, shaggy dog story.
And given that this is mainstream cinema, Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live.
Racial integration, environmental concerns, the prevalence of corruption within regimes, the blinkered dumbed-down nature of society, the growing political power and influence of the youth – particularly through technology, the championing of both the disadvantaged and minority groups, and through the film’s tightly-bound assortment of canine and human compadres, there is also a considerable tip of the hat towards the power of the collective, as they stand strong together against waves of unjust tyranny.
It’s all here.
There can perhaps be loose comparisons made – in tone at least – with Martin Rosen’s wonderful, oft-overlooked animated adaptation of the Richard Adams novel, Plague Dogs. Visually and stylistically-speaking, however, there are more obvious parallels to be made with Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman‘s more recent offering, Anomalisa,
Anderson’s film, enhanced substantially by Alexandre Desplat’s strategically sympathetic score, positively oozes charm. And it’s thanks in no small part to an extremely fine set of vocal castings, with the likes of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum – to name but a few – all breathing substantial life and vigour into this impressive animation. I really do lose count of the number of animated feature films that, for me at least, seem to fall so flat in this department.
A little morally and politically preachy Isle of Dogs may well be at times, but in fairness to the director, he never really labours the point, nor does he disappear in a cloud of self-generated ideological pretension.
Instead Anderson allows the film’s biggest assets – its considerable heart, comical interludes and jaw-dropping delicate beauty – to really shine through and be the star of the show.
An animated gem.