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Wes Anderson adds to his oeuvre with ‘Isle of Dogs’
Among auteurs, Wes Anderson seems peerless.
Filmmakers are granted that title by leaving their distinct stamps on cinema, and most will also enthusiastically cop to the influences that shaped them. Often, we can see those influences for ourselves. It’s one of the joys and thrills of cinephilia.
But no one else does what Anderson does, or ever really has.
His cinematic universe is idiosyncratic, and rather than expanding it with new genres and styles he goes the opposite way, absorbing everything into his own. Anderson is a genre unto himself.
His twee milieu is on vivid display in “Isle of Dogs,” his second foray into stop-motion animation. Set in a future Asian dystopia, all canines have mysteriously been stricken with dog-specific diseases and quarantined to Trash Island, a distant waste depository.
The dogs miss their cushy pasts, but their melancholy goes deeper. They really miss their masters—their best friends. Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) is the exception. He’s a stray, a tough-as-nails cynic, and his arc is the film’s most moving.
The dogs are a hilariously droll motley crew voiced by many from Anderson’s usual troupe: Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and Jeff Goldblum (his purveyance of rumors is a hilarious running gag).
When a boy pilots a small plane to Trash Island in search of his beloved pet, the dogs rally to honor his devotion. This inspires others on the mainland, including an activistic foreign exchange student
“Isle of Dogs” is crafted with Anderson’s scrupulous detail, vibrant colors and textures, deadpan erudition, and quixotic ennui, all at an epic scope.
Some of Anderson’s detractors claim his artful precision has no emotional entry point, that it’s hindered by a distant remove. Some dismiss it as smug. I’ve never understood that. If Anderson shares any trait with other auteurs, it’s Spielberg’s sentimentality. Add dogs to the mix and you get something truly heartfelt.
Thematically, some might discern a coded allegory to Trumpish nationalism, the resistance thereof, and the Orwellian hellscape they fear our 45th president would love to impose. That’s hard to buy, though. Anderson has never been a political filmmaker, and “Isle of Dogs” doesn’t feel driven by soapbox metaphors, either.
In fact, Anderson’s fables often pit oppressive power structures against the pure ideals of protagonist underdogs (even eccentric ones), whether it’s Max Fischer vs. Rushmore (“Rushmore”) or, in this case, a boy and dogs vs. the Kobayashi dynasty.
Anderson’s two decades of filmmaking don’t reveal an artist trying new things. He’s honing a singular style. Rather than experimenting with his palette, he doubles down, zeroes in, and perfects.