Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush

The trailer for Wes Anderson’s upcoming stop-motion film Isle of Dogs (2018) was released on Thursday, September 21. Many of his trademarks are on full display: deadpan acting, symmetrical frame compositions, a cast of Anderson regulars, endearingly awkward young characters and a return to using Futura typeface after a brief foray with cursive and Archer. The story deals with talking dogs who are exiled on an island and a rescue mission to help a boy who is trying to find his dog. The trailer seems less concerned with piquing interest in the movie than with confirming that it is indeed another Wes Anderson movie—a recurring sentiment in many reactions to the trailer (either from news articles, comments sections or reaction videos) is that it’s “so Wes Anderson.”

Many people also feel it is somewhat appropriative. Voice-over narration explains the film’s setting: “The Japanese archipelago. Twenty years in the future. Canine saturation has reached epidemic proportions….” Visually, it resembles the future Tokyo of the 1988 anime film Akira. There have been criticisms that the film’s cast is largely white despite the Japanese setting, though it may not be whitewashing per se since the white actors seem to be playing the dogs, not the people. In interviews, Anderson has claimed that the film is “less influenced by stop-motion movies than it is by Akira Kurosawa.” The fact that Anderson is inspired by a specific Japanese director rather than vaguely being interested in “the concept of Asia” is promising … or at least more promising than when he hinted back in 2014 about his next film, “I will say I’m interested in Japan.”

I myself felt a little uneasy watching the trailer, for reasons admittedly hazier than the complaints that Anderson is using Japanese culture as window-dressing. My qualms come from knowing that director Noah Baumbach (who is Anderson’s long-time friend and collaborator; they co-wrote the scripts for Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)) and actress Greta Gerwig have been trying, for a considerable amount of time, to get their own talking-dog movie script, titled Flawed Dogs, produced. Considering that Baumbach and Gerwig (who are dating) also wrote Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015), two of the best comedies in recent years, it is difficult for me not to regret a little that we are not getting to see their dog movie instead. Isle of Dogs appears to have no connection to Baumbach and Gerwig’s script, as neither of them are credited for either the script or story for it, though Gerwig does act in it. It is difficult for me to believe that the emergence of Anderson’s dog movie idea could have been either coincidence or parallel thinking.

Do I think Wes Anderson maliciously stole the idea for Isle of Dogs from his dear friend? Not really. I would imagine Anderson, Baumbach and Gerwig are all on good terms to this day. I also imagine Gerwig and Baumbach repeatedly reassuring, “Of course it’s fine, Wes! We’re very happy that your dog movie’s getting made. So happy for you! Ours will probably get made someday too. No hard feelings!” And I anticipate that when Isle of Dogs comes out and is seen, a lot of the wariness around appropriation will abate. Anderson is smart, so he probably made a movie that is at least passably politically correct. Viewed on small phones and computer screens, it is easy to scrutinize flaws like appropriation and alleged betrayal of friendship. But viewed on the big screen in all of its spectacle, I’m sure it will be difficult to find anything specifically wrong with Isle of Dogs. It is difficult to see flaws when everything’s so blindingly “Wes Anderson.”

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