Writer/director Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation – previously visited in 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox – with this week’s new release Isle of Dogs. The story takes place in the Japan of the future, one where the nation has become overrun by dogs, many of whom are sick from a flu-like disease running through the canine population. To maintain public health, all the dogs are sent to an island of trash floating out in the ocean.
One young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) is distraught and so puts together the kind of plan that can only exist in a Wes Anderson film to rescue his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). When he arrives on the island he has trouble finding Spots, though. Thankfully he receives the help of other dogs who recognize what he’s trying to do, including Rex (Edward Norton), Chief (Bryan Cranston) and others, all while ducking the government authorities who want the embarrassing incident brought to a close.
The first poster does a few obvious things while also presenting a bit of a mystery. The title treatment is presented embedded within a series of Japanese characters. Similarly, the names of the impressive cast are written in both English and Japanese. At the bottom all we see is a figure standing on the beach with a parachute attached to him as a few dogs look on to see what’s happening. So it accomplishes the goal of showing off the usual all-star cast Anderson has assembled and get people wondering what’s going on with all the Japanese writing.
Fox first released a motion poster that showed a worker pasting up ads on a wall, the city in the background. That was meant to largely promote the trailer that was due to hit the next day.
The second poster has a lot of the same elements, including the Japanese script that’s used in the title and the cast list. This time though we see Atari and the dogs who accompany him on his quest more clearly, all of them standing in the basket of a conveyor system. The mounds of trash are seen at the bottom to show where most of the action takes place.
Another motion poster featured a gathering of dogs, all of whom started sneezing as time went on, with a caption about #DogFlu. That seems in poor taste considering how many people are actually tweeting about their sick dogs at that time.
The first and only trailer lays out the premise, that 20 years in the future disease and overcrowding in the canines of Megasaki City have lead to them being exiled to an island of garbage to fend for themselves. Atari, though, isn’t content to let his dog Spots remain there and so sets off to find him. That leads to all sorts of hijinks and adventures, complicated by the fact that Atari’s father is the one who decreed the dogs be removed.
It’s cute and charming, just as you’d expect from the director of Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s clear this will be filled with the same sort of visuals along with Anderson’s usual balanced framing and directions for the actors to be as dry in their delivery as possible. Solid first effort.
Online and Social
Unfortunately the movie receives only the standard tickets-centric treatment for its official website. There are videos and a synopsis but that’s it. There aren’t profiles of the canine characters, no fictional backstory about what lead to the quarantine or anything else. This is a remarkable opportunity to do a little world-building – which I’m sure Anderson has in a notebook somewhere – that’s completely squandered. The site doesn’t even feature links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Around the time it was screening at SXSW, TV spots like this one began airing that gave the audience the basic outline of the story but mainly just made it look like a fun stop-motion adventure featuring Anderson’s unique style. Others presented it as more of a drama about the moral decisions being made by the dogs at the center of the story.
Social media ads used videos and links to the ticket-buying site while other online ads used key art to make the same sale.
There was a promotion with camera app VSCO that added movie-inspired filters to the camera, each representing a different aspect of the story.
Media and Publicity
The marketing kicked off with an announcement video from Anderson where he talked about getting started on production and a chance for people to enter to win a chance to voice a character in the movie. Just a day later, the movie was acquired by Fox Searchlight.
A VR experience produced in conjunction with Google debuted at CES, where fans could enter the world of the movie and get a behind-the-scenes look at its making. That was followed up with additional VR content made available exclusively on Google’s Pixel phone.
Later on it was announced the movie would be the closing feature at the SXSW Film Festival, a nice big platform with a hip audience. It won an audience award and gathered up lots more positive word of mouth while there.
The main members of the cast did a bit of press and publicity but not much and mostly it was just mentioning this film alongside other projects they’re involved with.
As a whole, the campaign is as styled and charming as that for any other Wes Anderson film. Whether he’s working in stop-motion or live-action (one could argue his directorial style makes the differences between the two minuscule at best) it’s easy to pick out an Anderson production. That style is conveyed clearly here, as is the story of a young boy’s love for his dog, which is a pretty universal sentiment. I like the cross-cultural approach that is consistent throughout the campaign, which lends it a unique message and identify for the audience to latch on to.
My main problem then is the lack of supporting material. This feels like a fully-fleshed out world Anderson is visiting and so not providing any sort of backstory or profiles feels like a misstep to me. It might not have mattered to the mainstream audience who wouldn’t have the time to seek something like that out, but for those who are already inclined toward the movie or who would stumble upon it, adding a bit of depth would solidify the emotional connection with the brand and could make the difference in turning fans into advocates.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.