I’m not sure what’s the worst thing about my Isle of Dogs experience. Is it that I kept trying to figure out which dog was George Clooney when he wasn’t even in the movie, or is it that I fell asleep in the first twenty minutes and kept having to shake myself awake?
Isle of Dogs is apparently the longest ever stop-motion animated movie, and based on that, I’d say it’s probably not a sound strategy to try to break the record. Stop motion may not be suited to long form. A big problem, especially the way Wes Anderson does it, is that there’s not a lot of, you know, actual motion. Stop-motion’s not suited to action, or dynamic editing, or any of the things which we’re conditioned to expect in a movie. It does static setpieces and simple movements in a single plane. And because it’s puppets, you’re not getting much subtlety in expression or characterisation. So as everyone yacks away without ever really doing anything, you start to fade out. I’m not sure what I missed; I’m pretty sure that I didn’t miss anything which mattered hugely to the plot.
Still, it’s a Wes Anderson movie, so it’s different. Wes is not like the other kids. The more movies he clocks up, the more I realise how much Rushmore was autobiographical. Wes is doing things the hard way just for the sake of being different, not because it necessarily adds anything important to the emotionality of what you see. And definitely not because there’s any internal consistency to it. All the Japanese characters are voiced by Japanese actors speaking Japanese, with a variety of contrivances to provide an English gloss when Wes thinks you’re going to need it. But the contrivances are so stupid that subtitles would have been less distracting. For all the big political speeches about the background there’s an English language interpreter. But why would there even be an interpreter? This is Japanese local politics, which is to say local politics in a country which famously has no interest in letting foreigners have any kind of role or input in their community. They’d be just as likely to set themselves on fire in mid-speech as lay on English language interpretation.
And why is it happening in Japan at all? For all the effort to have Japanese actors speaking Japanese, it’s hard to see how this is a story which could only be told in Japan.
Eh. I dunno.
I was distracted by the fact that there was an Assistant Hatchetman to the Mayor of Megasaki, which left my literal little mind waiting for the Hatchetman proper to make an appearance. Spoiler, he doesn’t. Nor is there any real explanation for the sudden appearance of four cats in the middle of the aftermath of the climactic battle between Spots and the robo-dog. Were the cats inside the robo-dog? I was hoping that they had actually been inside the Mayor, operating him all along like the mythical eight squirrels in a raincoat. So many pointless questions.
But in the end, it’s a deliberately weird Wes Anderson movie, full of visual oddity and forced quirkiness which almost make it worth watching just to see what he’s done this time. But it’s not got the panache and rewatchability of something like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I’d almost say in a choice between watching Hotel again and watching Isle of Dogs for the first time, Hotel might be the better use of your time. The trailer for Isle of Dogs tells you everything you need to know about the look of the movie, and there’s not so much to it beyond the look that you’re losing a whole lot by never seeing it in full.