Have you ever seen a Wes Anderson film? Or even the poster for one? Did you hate it with every fibre of your being? If so this is not the film for you. The reasons you hate it: the colour schemes, the odd idiosyncratic nature of it all, they’re all prevalent here. But if you’re a fan of his work, then the reasons you love it: the colour schemes, the odd idiosyncratic nature of it all, they’re all prevalent here (thank you copy+paste). Personally, I adored it, and I chose that word specifically. I didn’t love it, it’s not the kind of film where I have a deep personal affection for it and will sing its praises to all and sundry. It’s not a film where I can spend hours talking about how it’s brilliant and everybody should love it. But it is a film I have warm feelings for, it’s the film equivalent of a cosy chair by a fireplace. You watch it and everything just feels, I dunno, right.
Part of that is down to the look of it. The stop-motion REALLY helps this. The style suits the story and is a great example of animation-story integration. If this was a heavily polished CGI film it would lose some of what makes it work. Even if it was animated like a 90’s Disney film it wouldn’t quite work. Characters are roughed up and damaged, this is great as it makes them seem real, like they’re actual things which have been damaged. So when someone is hurt in a fight, the damage stays with them throughout. The vocal work is great too, sometimes in animated films with all-star casts (and with Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray,Ken Watanabe, Scarlett Johansson etc, this is a definitely an all-star cast) it can be hard to be truly invested because every time a character speaks you go “hey, I know that voice”. You don’t really do that with this, probably because of how well suited the voices are to the characters, the characters sound exactly what you expect them to sound like when you look at the character designs.
The way the voices were handled was actually really well done too. The human characters mostly didn’t speak English, but Japanese, because the story is set in Japan (I know that seems obvious, but you’ll be amazed how many films make everybody speak English no matter what the location). The English come from either the dogs, an American, or a translation service, where the Japanese is still audible under the English (they essentially find an in-universe method of dubbing voices, and it’s genius).
So would I recommend seeing this? Definitely. Not if you’re a kid though (and if you are, why are you reading this?) Despite being marketed as a kids film I’m not sure how well this will be received by them. Also, it’s not quite as twee as the marketing and visual style might have you believe. It’s incredibly dark at times, one of the opening moments of the film features a dog dying of starvation, and it doesn’t lighten up too much in terms of story. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson, watch it, if not, this won’t change your mind.