Wes Anderson, Stop-Motion, and Color

In the world of stop-motion animation, there are three names that ensure a stop-motion film will be great: Aardman, Laika and Wes Anderson. Included in Anderson’s expansive film career, which mostly consists of live-action hits like “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” are two animated features done in stop-motion: 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and next year’s “Isle of Dogs.” Considering “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was not only my introduction to Wes Anderson, but also a favorite animated film of mine, I was beyond ecstatic to see what he would do for his next animated film, and once the trailer for “Isle of Dogs” was released, not only was I satisfied that it features a lot of the same material that made “Fox” so great, but also it gives off a starkly different vibe, which can best be described by how both films utilize color.

Wes Anderson’s color palettes have always been an important part of the charm and likability of his features, as well as lay down the tone and mood of the flick. Because of the infinite possibilities of animation, it was only natural Wes Anderson’s unique visual flair was successfully translated to the medium. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” uses color in an attempt to create a very specific mood felt throughout the feature: autumn. Orange, brown and yellow are used to full effect to establish the tone, setting and themes.

The film’s brightness leads to a lighthearted tone seeped throughout the film, save for a handful of scenes featuring family drama between Mr. Fox, his wife and his son, which even then feature a good dose of quirkiness and laughs thrown in. The colors also create a fall setting that is almost like a painting, thanks to an iconic and layered production design and a smart use of texture, seen through the backgrounds and even the fur of the characters. Even the fall colors accentuate the film’s theme of change, which is expressed through every character. From Mr. Fox adjusting to a new life, to his son Ash dealing with a lost connection with his father, to the neighborhood being forced to uproot and take action against the three farmers, the antagonists of the feature. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” succeeds not just because of the quippy dialogue and memorable characters but also because of the distinctive visual style and color grading, making it one of the best animated films ever made.

While the trailer for “Isle of Dogs” features a lot of similar elements to “Fox,” as shown through the similar animation style and quirky dialogue, the tone of both films look like complete opposites, especially when looking at the color palettes. While “Fantastic Mr. Fox” uses colors commonly associated with autumn and fall, “Isle of Dogs” uses colors commonly associated with dystopia. Judging by the trailer, the film’s use of grey for its backgrounds and set pieces, as well as the dark fur of the dogs and pale skin of the humans, symbolizes a film that possibly features fear, survival and a cold personality, but with a hint of eccentricity. After all, a movie about dogs banished from Japan due to a canine flu is definitely an oddball story.

It’s hard to go into more detail over the upcoming film, since there’s only two-and-a-half minutes of footage to grasp, but just looking at the way both films utilize color, it’s clear Wes Anderson’s next stop-motion feature will be far different from his first stop-motion feature, and it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast the two once “Isle of Dogs” releases next March.

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