Following on from 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel; arguably Wes Anderson’s best and most empathetic film to date with its delightful mix of pathos, humour and likeable characters, his latest project feels dissapointingly flat and somewhat lifeless.
Set in a fictional version of Japan, where all dogs have been exiled to Trash Island, this is the story of young boy Atari and the quest to find his dog, Spots. Despite the undeniable intricacy and beauty in the detail of the sets and puppets (this is Anderson’s first stop frame animation since 2009s Fantastic Mr Fox) there is a sad lack of care taken in the screenplay, with lazy characterisation and an entirely unengaging, uninspiring plot. Over the years we have come to expect visual perfection from Anderson but it is simply not enough to make for an enjoyable viewing experience; for however meticulous the design or stunning the sets, these will rarely compensate for lack of character or plot, especially when we have seen that when he’s at his best, Wes can give us both.
This is all in addition to the glaring issues around Japanese cultural appropriation which other writers have already discussed at length and which I happen to agree with. For me the most grating example of this is Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy, an American exchange student who loudly leads the rebellion against the politicians as the Japanese characters are silenced (no subtitles are provided for the Japenese language sections), a clear and extremely uncomfortable portrayal of the ‘White Saviour’.
Ultimately, without a story and characters you can root for, this is merely a very pretty yet ultimately empty work.