Wes Anderson is a unique filmmaker. He’s someone who, when you see an image from one of his movies, you know instantly that it’s his. He makes movies that are visually stunning, but also have great emotional moments. Anderson’s care for color, composition, and camera movement, made moving to stop-motion animation a logical step in his evolution. Two of his movies use this art form: Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. Which one is better? Let’s find out:
Why Fantastic Mr. Fox Could Be the Best
Fantastic Mr. Fox tells the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney), who used to be wild and raid farms, but has now turned his ways to be a responsible father and husband. After “one last raid”, he must face the consequences, as three farmers retaliate, and he must help save his community. This was the first time that Anderson did animation (other than the aquatic animals in Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), and it shows he’s in his element, as his personality and idiosyncrasies are still there. The director also showed us that animation could be many things, and not just computer-generated Pixar or DreamWorks styles.
Anderson told MTV about the reasons for using animation: “With stop-motion, one of the advantages is, because you’re working in miniatures, you can build things you normally wouldn’t have the resources to build. It allows you to have a bigger production than you would normally be permitted. With stop-motion over other forms of animation, I think you can sense that somebody’s moving these physical objects and making them seem alive. You can somehow sense the hands being put on these things, and there’s a charm to that, I think. Something magical to stop-motion in general, I think.”
The film was adapted from a Roald Dahl book and, as such, has a lot of emotions and adult themes that we don’t always see in this kind of movie, as Mr. Fox is having a midlife crisis. That’s why the voice acting was so crucial. While writing the script, Anderson thought of Cary Grant, so when he cast the role, he went with the next best thing: George Clooney. The actor gives one of the most powerful performances in any Anderson movie. His character has to be many things at once: a scoundrel who still loves the fun of raids, while being a good father and not resenting his family; and all that during a midlife crisis where he doesn’t know how he’ll be remembered. Clooney nails all those emotions, giving us a protagonist to root for, even if he’s an animated fox.
The whole cast is stacked with incredible performers (as in many of Anderson’s movies). Joining Clooney was Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and even cameos by musician Jarvis Cocker and chef Mario Batali. Anderson decided to have the voice recording done outside and on location, something not usually done, giving the movie a different spirit. The soundtrack is another factor that makes the movie better. Who would’ve thought that in a story written by Roald Dahl, it would make sense to use The Beach Boys or The Rolling Stones? The energetic soundtrack works beautifully to give the movie a modern air of happiness and messiness that rock and roll brought to the scene in the ’60s.
Why Isle of Dogs Could Be the Best
Isle of Dogs is the tale of Atari (Koyu Rankin), who goes to Trash Island to find his dog Sport (Liev Schreiber) after Mayor Kobayashi has sent all the dogs there, because of an outbreak of “dog flu”. With the help of five dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and Boss (Bill Murray), Atari will have an incredible adventure.
The movie follows many of Wes Anderson’s stylistic preferences while using even more animation techniques than The Fantastic Mr. Fox. He uses a more graphic style, animation shadows, hand-drawn television news, a lot more world-building, and detailed sets that make this movie visually fantastic. The dogs, Trash Island (and all its different parts), and the Japanese locations that suit Anderson’s visual sensibilities make this movie visually amazing. Many viewings are required to find and enjoy the many details of the sets and characters.
Anderson also gets more comfortable with his scenes, as there are incredible sequences, like the one with the poisoned sushi, that makes us believe Anderson should’ve done an animated movie about a sushi chef. About that mouth-watering sequence, the animation director Mark Waring told Indiewire: “Wes wanted it to look like real sushi that had never been done before,” said Waring. “How do you kill, gut, and skin a fish? How do you go into the next stage with an octopus? How do you chop it up? How do you divide it? How do you use the knife? All these different nuances we had to work out and then as a choreography, we had to animate it all by hand for a scene that lasts only 45 seconds.”
A visually interesting movie without a good story wouldn’t work, and Anderson knows it from some of his previous works (the plot in Grand Budapest Hotel looks more like an excuse for Anderson’s different dioramas), and Isle of Dogs tackles many things and ideas. There’s the story of Atari and the search for his dog, but there’s also a commentary on political oppression, the power of dissent, deportation, or the elimination of the opposition through a disgusting method like poisoning.
The cast is impressive in names, although some actors appear sparingly at best, but a movie with Schreiber, Cranston, Norton, Balaban, Goldblum, Murray, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, F. Murray Abraham, Courtney B. Vance, and even Yoko Ono is one where great performances are expected and granted.
Fantastic Mr. Fox vs. Isle of Dogs: Which Wes Anderson stop-motion movie is better? This is a Sophie’s Choice kind of proposition, as both movies are incredible and worth many re-watches.
The stop-motion animation of Isle of Dogs is better, as it uses everything Anderson learned while creating Fantastic Mr. Fox, and improves on it (and Mr. Fox was already beautiful). On the other hand, the Fantastic Mr. Fox script and story are superior, as it tells a contained story that makes us empathize with the character and want him to evolve and succeed; while the Isle of Dogs story is less focused, as it wants to embrace many ideas all at once, and the emotional center of it, the relationship between Atari and Sport, suffers a bit for it. The performances in both movies are great, but Clooney hit it out of the park, creating a three-dimensional (animated) character and giving him so many layers that we understand perfectly all the good and bad things he’s feeling and fighting for.
As it happens when choosing delicious food, like two kinds of pizza, there are no losers here, as both options are awesome. Having said that, we feel Fantastic Mr. Fox is a little bit better as the film gives us beautiful animation, unique characters to root for, a focused story inspired by the one and only Roald Dahl, and a performance that should’ve won many awards.