Glasgow Film Festival Review : ‘Isle of Dogs’

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The opening gala this year sees the new Wes Anderson film ‘Isle of Dogs‘ UK premiere at Glasgow Film Theatre. All mentions of the films’ production online triggered a high amount of anticipation, right from the first quote from Anderson revealing that his next project is “a stop motion animation about dogs”. This is his return to animation following ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ (2009), a similar stop-motion and illustrated combination with title cards, and indeed a similar journey narrative.

In terms of casting, there are all of the usual suspects in perfect synch. Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Norton, and Bob Balaban join Bryan Cranston as five of the dogs who have been quarantined on Trash Island along with the entire canine inhabitants of Japan. In a complex narrative, explained humorously in a prologue and several chapters, we are told about 12-year old Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and his rescue mission to save his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber).

The sweet sweet casting choices aid a marvellous script. Seriously, there are roles for the likes of Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Yoko Ono, F Murray Abraham, and Tilda Swinton (whose character, Oracle, is hilarious). The dialogue is razor sharp and quick-witted. A memorable line replaces ‘brother from another mother’ with “brother from another litter”. The title cards are a stroke of genius, labelling illustrations with statements like “(sad funeral)”. There’s an attention to detail familiar from ‘The Royal Tenenbaums‘ (2001) and ‘Moonrise Kingdom‘ (2012).

The sense of journey is clear as well. The reasons for the characters being stuck together in their pursuit of the same destination brings out character development like a dysfunctional family. A lot of the sequences are extreme in there fast editing and work well in the mode of a farcical adventure tale. We see similar paced sequences in ‘Grand Budapest Hotel‘ (2014), where M Gustave escapes from prison and is then involved in a ski chase.

However, there are moments of light, and of calm. This supplements the other fast pace stuff really well. In the soundtrack, there are a couple of songs from The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band that give a warmer, fuzzy feeling. The tones of the main score from Alexandre Desplat are fantastic in establishing the mood of each scene. This is the 4th Anderson film Desplat has composed music for, and his understanding of matching the sound to the screen is superb.

Isle of Dogs‘ takes the typical Anderson themes of extended family issues and applies even more texture and originality. The animation in this film is brilliantly realised, the nuances in the fine detail really give it an edge. It has a narrative that is clever in its use of call-backs and has strong characterisation. I sat and watched it with a big childlike grin on my face, and would happily watch it again. And again.

Zach Roddis | [rating=5]

Animation, comedy | USA, 2018 | 15 | 21-22nd February 2018 | GFF 2018 | Dir.Wes Anderson | Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Norton, Bob Balaban, Leiv Schreiber, Koyu Rankin, Tilda Swinton