What a wonderful director Wes Anderson is. Yes, he’s Marmite. But I love Marmite, and thankfully, so do my kids. What I have not really got my head around is that Isle of Dogs is a perfect and wonderful example of stop motion animation film-making which works brilliantly at all levels. For a smaller child, there are dogs in peril on Trash Island, and a little boy searching for his own dog, Spots. And for everyone else, a wonderfully rich and layered story about political power, ghettos, outcasts, loyalty and commitment, rendered with the gorgeous symmetry and cinematography we associate with all Wes Anderson films. Which is why the lack of day time screenings available over the Easter holidays in West London was a bewildering phenomenon. One packed screening in a small screen at Westfield on a random Tuesday lunchtime, where we couldn’t all sit together, and that was it until 8.30pm. Admittedly the screening was more full of adults than kids, but that’s because it’s not being marketed at that audience. When I first watched The Fantastic Mr Fox at the Opening Night of the London Film Festival, I felt that it had been wrongly positioned. I didn’t quite embrace the film at that screening. Admired, yes, thought it clever, but somehow didn’t love it. Maybe because there were no kids in the audience. And then I watched it again, with my family, and again, and many times since, and every single time I find more to enjoy. Now it ranks as one of my all time favourite films, along with several other Wes Anderson movies.
In this screening of Isle of Dogs, I sat there with a large grin on my face throughout, thinking, I cannot wait to watch this again. The characters are wonderfully etched, particularly Chief, played by Brian Cranston, who’s a ‘stray’, with all the trauma of being an orphan that that brings with it. Alongside him are a world of other dogs and humans, with the voices of Wes regulars, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Norton, and a veritable host of wonderful names including Yoko Ono (playing a scientist called, Yoko Ono), Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Bob Balaban and F Murray Abraham providing such excellent acting talent. The extraordinary landscape of Trash Island, where all dogs are banished by Mayor Kobayashi, whose cat loving dynasty have created dog flu and snout fever symptoms in order to rid the mainland of all canines, is a dreadful place, and yet rendered part of normal life (and death). Tristan Oliver’s eye with the camera is second to none, and Alexander Desplat’s memorable score underpins so much of the action.
Wes Anderson created this film as if he were directing real people and not just rendered characters and voices. The camera moves and acute sense of timing provide the cues for humour. Sometimes silence in response to comment is funnier than speech. After all, pictures speak a thousand words.