Quirky characters, dry humor, perfectly symmetrical cinematography, and storybook narratives. You know a Wes Anderson movie when you see one. As one of the few auteur’s in filmmaking, it’s always refreshing to see his unique and eccentric style. His newest project is his first stop motion animated film since The Fantastic Mr. Fox and features an infusion of Japanese culture.
Isle of Dogs takes place in fictional Megasaki, Japan. An outbreak of canine flu leads the city’s cat loving mayor to pass a law exiling all dogs, including the one belonging to his own nephew. Determined to rescue his companion, Spots (Liev Schreiber), 12 year-old Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) flies to the island where a friendly pack of abandoned dogs (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Bob Balaban) offer to help him on his quest much to the dismay of their stray dog leader, Chief (Bryan Cranston).
Fans of Wes Anderson films will find this one just as hilarious and charming as many of his other works. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s style, Isle of Dogs can come off very unusual or even jarring to watch. Irony and dry wit are evident in almost every scene and there are moments you simply won’t find anywhere else. But don’t let unfamiliarity deter you from enjoying this off kilter adventure.
Anderson has a knack for filling his films with tons of interesting characters. Atari is a brave and endearing focal point and it’s easy to route for his arc down to its bizarre climax. The main pack of dogs, voiced with charm by each of Anderson’s usual compatriots, keep things light and entertaining. Even the supporting characters bring something fun to the table. Scarlett Johansson lends her sensual voice as Chief’s showdog love interest named Nutmeg. Greta Gerwig plays a freckled foreign exchange student determined to expose a conspiracy theory against the dogs. There’s even a wise, liquor drinking dog named Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) accompanied by a pug called the Oracle (Tilda Swinton) that uses the unique skill of watching television to “predict the future”.
The movie carries on too long and at times gets bogged down by the weight of its constantly shifting story, but the clever dialogue and quirky method of non-linear storytelling helps keep things from feeling dull. It’s also definitely not for kids, as it contains some foul language and colorful violence. But overall, Isle of Dogs and its All-Star cast manage to match Anderson’s last stop motion effort in charm, especially for anyone who has ever owned a canine companion.
FINAL GRADE: B