Isle of Dogs (2018)
What's become of man's best friend?
Stick around long enough and you'll know or learn that I like those offbeat movie effects. I'm fine with CG, and I enjoy some fine practical, but there's just some weird charm and draw to stop motion movies. The fact that really anyone could do it, but knowing the huge time-barrier and immense amount of effort that goes into them only adds to that draw I imagine. Still, from the trailer I thought this was something to put on my radar, and tonight it's finally come in the mail. Let's find out whose been a good boy.
Some interesting choices were made in this movie. Although it's a tale just as much about the people involved, most lines of communication we hear are from dogs - that's right, unless you speak Japanese, most the English dialogues you hear are coming out of little old pupper's mouths. It does a nice job of potentially casting you into that feeling that it's a dog's tale - such as it is to some extent - and that your perspective should be that of the dogs as well. Despite that, it also makes sure you get plenty of people interactions - usually on account of either a foreign exchange student, or the political groupings who are either pro-dog or anti-dog in the first place. More so than that would be the young kid in search of his dog, who we spend most of our time with whilst surrounded by dogs of the island. It weaves these lines of serious political shadow, science fiction tech like robot dogs and exploding canines (as in the teeth, but I'm still amused by myself regardless), and the at times silly interactions of the dogs upon the island.
The decision to go with stop motion, combined with the "chapter" structure of the movie also helps provide it a very fairy tale sort of appearance. It evokes the thoughts of old puppet shows, or moments of artistic flair that one might see on some Japanese scrolls laying about, while still layering in the specific charm that comes with stop motion. Sure, it's not always the most impressive thing to look at in comparison to more modern technologies, but little details like wisps of smoke staying true to form and being made of, say, cotton strung out helps to bring forth that child-like charm. For the more effects inclined, it also brings with it plenty of times where things are just that much more impressive - as I'm sure such a person has already looked into the work that goes behind stop motion and potentially even gone back as far as Harryhausen and seen some of the things it's capable off - although more often than not a person is probably more familiar with something like Wallace and Gromit. At times things move smoothly, and others they can be a bit jerky - but it all feels as though each type was intended that way. Details that were probably a complete pain in the butt to deal with - such as making the dog fur move around in the breeze - can even be totally looked over by the watcher, but only go to add to the appreciation of the time put in.
Of course, the best animation isn't an entire movie if there isn't the other foundations of a film to back it up. Although it does wonders towards adding details to characters - making an evil character looks so much like Frankenstein's assistant you'd owe someone money if they weren't evil - sometimes they can be a bit over the top. If nothing else, they go a long way for identifying a character at a glance without even having any real name behind them - such as the hacker, who every time he shows up you know it's him because of the little mustache, or each of the dogs having their own unique look (at the very least for the ones who matter). The majority of the time is spent with the main kid, whose got some devotion and character too him, although given the fact we don't understand him at all verbally it might be hard for some to attach to him, and the group of roughly five main dogs. With only one having a personality in conflict with the others, it's almost easy enough to treat the four as a single character, and of the batch it's the at-odds one that's really the only one with a sense of development over the film that most would see coming from a mile away.
The voice acting is pretty good here. I can't attest to any of the Japanese lines, because I don't speak it or understand much of anything when it comes to the emphasis or inflection differences, but most of the dogs do a pretty good job of things. There are some who are more strong than others, but even the weaker ones have moments where they manage to spring a good joke on you. Of course, humor is subjective for sure, but I did laugh a few times at this, despite the premise being a bit dark or sad at times. That's not to say it's all doom and gloom however, as at it's core it's a bit of a story of hope with a fresh paint job. And a story of cats versus dogs. And a story of political corruption and conspiracy theories. In all that though, there's that hearty backbone of a boy and his dog.
Some of the dogs do look pretty rough as well. Some wear some battle scars here and there, some with crazy looking injuries or attachments from experimentation. Heck, even the main kid walks around with a drive shaft chunk sticking out of his head for most the movie. That said, most the violence is much like that of an old Looney Tunes cartoon - complete with massive dust cloud surrounding all the scrappers. The most violent bit is probably a dog's ear getting chomped off towards the beginning, and even that (thanks to the clay-like appearance) isn't all that graphic, and partially played up as a joke afterwards. Again, the jokes here are spread throughout the movie, and mostly in the form of the dog segments with a one-line quip or comment. It's somewhat like a bridge between serious real-world and amusing fantasy world with the contrast at times - and then you focus in on the foreign exchange student with her massive fro and conspiracy theories and even the human side of things get's a bit laughable at times.
The audio isn't bad, and largely just does it's part. Balance is good, and the settings give a nice swathe of diversity with the trash island having all manner of different areas that look distinct enough that you never quite feel like the movie never goes anywhere. The color choices also make for some nice shots at times, despite so much "barren wasteland" sort of action going on. A person whose into deep thinking could probably find all sorts of parallels to real world events in there, but I really just went in to have a good time in the confines of the movie - so I'll leave those heavy thoughts to somebody else.
Although perhaps not as flashy as Kubo or as well known as Wallace and Gromit, Isle of Dogs is easily something that plenty of people could probably sit down and enjoy. It has some good moments of tension and wondering if one character or another is going to be okay, some alright jokes that got me to laugh, and that lovely stop motion aesthetic (that I understand some people just won't like or be able to get past). It's a decent little roller coaster and the paint job is different enough that it doesn't feel like we've seen it a million times before. Some interesting choices were made here and there, and overall I feel like the trailer did a good job of summing up what I was getting into before I watched it.