Critics Lap Up Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’

Posted February 16, 2018 5:12 p.m. EST

The Berlin Film Festival opened Thursday with the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs.” The stop-motion animated film follows a pack of mutts, voiced by Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum, who are exiled to a trash-strewn Japanese island after an outbreak of canine flu.

The film is the highest-profile feature in the 10-day festival, known as the Berlinale. Anderson also opened the 2014 event with “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Early reviews of the “Isle of Dogs,” which opens in the United States on March 23, celebrated the use of animation in particular. Anderson’s previous stop-motion film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was nominated for the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2010.

“Given the heightened complexity of Anderson’s cinematic environments, with their whirligig detailing and multitude of moving parts, animation was always a logical sidestep for America’s most artisanal auteur,” wrote Guy Lodge, a film critic at Variety. Lodge applauded production designers Adam Stockhausen (who also worked on “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Moonrise Kingdom”) and Paul Harrod, noting that even the garbage “looks handpicked.”

David Ehrlich, senior film critic at IndieWire, called the movie “nothing if not Anderson’s most imaginative film to date.” Drawing a parallel between the film’s setting and current global events, Ehrlich wrote that Anderson is at his best in times of disorder. “Anderson has always been attuned to the beauty of magical idylls, to the violence of losing them, and (most of all) to the fumblingly tragicomic process of building something better from the rubble,” he wrote.

Many critics also addressed the question of cultural appropriation in “Isle of Dogs,” which is influenced by the films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, film critic Tim Robey, said, “The leaning on archetypes, some of them questionable, and stylization across a whole range of Japanese artforms, are maneuvers certain to get Anderson in hot water once the film is more widely seen.”

Anderson has been criticized before for his handling of race; Jonah Weiner wrote in Slate in 2007 that “The Darjeeling Limited” showcases “an obnoxious element of Anderson that is rarely discussed: the clumsy, discomfiting way he stages interactions between white protagonists — typically upper-class elites — and nonwhite foils — typically working class and poor.”

Film critic Jonathan Romney, however, praised “Isle of Dogs'” as blending contemporary and historical Japanese influences. “The result could have come across as shameless cultural tourism,” he wrote in The Guardian, “but the film suggests real immersion in Japanese culture and cinema, with Akira Kurosawa’s epics an avowed model.”

“Anderson also plays his linguistic hand subtly and wittily,” he added, “leaving the Japanese dialogue largely untranslated rather than cater too obviously to the Western audience.”

Andreas Borcholte of Der Spiegel, saw some similarities between the movie’s flu-afflicted dogs and the audiences in Berlin over the next 10 days: “wheezing, sniffling, jostling and delirious,” with “no prospect of escape.”