It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.
In a world where “sick” problem canines are deported unto an island of trash by an authoritarian regime who refuses to exercise patience or acceptance for the nearing days of a cure and eliminates scientific research-rivals by poison, the political undertones are unmistakable. And deservingly so.
Isle of Dogs is an endearing and heartfelt, and at the same time, catatonic narrative of man’s best friend, doing too little and too late to bring back the old days of Wes Anderson’s rich and creative set designs, individualistic humor, and those unmistakable soundtrack gems that treat the viewers with the adequate respect for someone who deserves the dignity of entertainment. While I appreciate the inspiration Anderson seeks in the works of legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa—as one critic noted: “Atari even takes on a limp and dazed look . . . in the same way as characters from Yojimbo and Rashomon”—I went away with the same experience as Kyle Smith (National Review), after 45 minutes, wondering: Is this it?
That said, James Berardinelli (Reelviews) is certainly wrong that the film was “too thin for a full animated feature.” The Problem wasn’t the length or depth of the narrative, which was largely necessary to draw out the unfolding of events and make the transformation of Chief believable. It was necessary to develop those moments where the youth generation, led by a female foreigner (sporting an Afro), brings down the establishment, perpetuated by a system of rigged elections, through concentrated campaigns of assembly (humans + animals) and the spreading of information. No, it wasn’t that the narrative was thin or anemic, it was just that the dialogue and delivery was flat and redundant when those patented Anderson characters were made to inhabit the bodies of puppets instead of Jason Schwartzman. I think we pause here to appreciate the staff at Consequence of Sound for compiling this list of best Wes Anderson characters and placing Max Fischer on top!
In his early six years, Wes Anderson was able to give the world Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), and The Royal Tenenbaums (2002). And, now, moving into year seven since Moonrise Kingdom, all we’ve had from this truly unique director is The Grand Budapest Hotel, which reverts to crude, mindless humor, and Isle of Dogs, which is largely dependent on the levity of characters and the audience appeal to a love for animals. As Odie Henderson (Roger Ebert) reminds us that the film’s nest asset was that “the dogs are very furry.” And indeed they are, except maybe the best dog, which is the pug, which is the best dog. Proof.
And while the plot develops as well as I’ve seen in any of his films and tinkers with the endlessly important themes of authoritarian state suppression and the rise of the next generation, the film’s hurdle into a positive review from us is contingent largely on the character played by Greta Gerwig and the brilliant weaving of a truly Anderson-esque song from the The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Without these two, the film would have lost me in what was quickly becoming a creative stupor.
Since most critics won’t stop in their sycophantic applause of Anderson’s creative degeneration, it is time for a friend to let him know that he is in somewhat of a slump. Thankfully not the slump that others, like David O. Russell, currently occupy (unbeknownst to himself, thanks again, to critics).
Since Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has taken the Woody Allen path of recycling old tricks and only showing glimmers of his former self. In Isle of Dogs, it was these old tricks that barely moved the film into the positive fields of review when most other films would be comfortably in their shadows. Perhaps its time, in the words of Agatha Christie, for Wes Anderson to be wise as dogs and “crawl away into a quiet corner and lick [his] wounds and do not rejoin the world until” he comes up with something better. Perhaps its time for those few competent critics to finally ask: “Are we eating him or is this a rescue?”