Wes Anderson returns with a new stop-motion animated feature, his first since his acclaimed Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, with the delightfully engaging and enthralling Isle of Dogs. This time out, Anderson tells an original tale, unlike Fox’s adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic, about a dystopian future Japan where all dogs have been ousted from the country. And Anderson has filled the voice cast with his usual mix of Hollywood heavy hitters.
In a future Japan, the dogs of the country have been deemed too dangerous and highly contagious after an outbreak of a mysterious illness across the canine population in Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), a member of the Kobayashi clan that has opposed dogs for generations, decrees that all dogs be outlawed and sent to ‘Trash Island’ along with the city’s trash to live out the rest of their days. But months after this happens, the Mayor’s adopted son Atari (Koyu Rankin) flies out to Trash Island in a commandeered ship in an attempt to find his beloved Spots (Liev Schreiber). After a crash landing, Atari quickly befriends Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) who all set out to find Spots.
The premise is The Plague Dogs/Watership Down meets Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey with more than a little Moonrise Kingdom sprinkled in for flavoring all while told through a lens that is heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa and an overall infatuation with Japanese culture. And boy does it mix well. It’s a lush landscape that is littered with fanciful incursions from Japanese custom and tradition all while telling a meaningful and utterly enthralling tale of love between boy and man’s best friend. This is a film that will delight all generations for years to comes. The animation style is a joy to watch as the stop-motion characters literally come to life on screen and the endless parade of familiar voices only enrich the environment.
Anderson has all the Japanese characters speaks their native tongue in the film, with the delightful Frances McDormand providing English translation for the important parts playing a news translator onscreen, which lends even more credibility to the feel of the film. The dogs are all capable of conversing with each other, but not between human and man, which makes the bonding between Atari and the pack grow out over the length of their journey. Along with the aforementioned cast the film also includes Greta Gerwig as an adorkable transfer student invested in Atari’s cause, Scarlett Johanson as the alluring female of Chief’s eye Nutmeg, F. Murray Abraham and Tilda Swinton as a pair of dogs that help the pack along the way as well as Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Yoko Ono playing a scientist named Yoko Ono and Courtney B. Vance as the story’s narrator.
One of the most easily accessible films in Anderson’s illustrious career, even those who wary of his well-formulated aesthetic should easily be won over by the whimsy and charm of this tale, Isle of Dogs is also one of his best. It features an animation style that Anderson has mastered since Fantastic Mr. Fox, a throwback to classic Rankin/Bass productions of the 60’s that also echoes current masters of stop-motion like Laika and Aardman but does it with a more realistic twist that actually infuses the film with more credibility. The world that Anderson creates is rich with detail and design, making a setting that I personally would love to see the director visit again with another tale.
Sadly, Fox Searchlight has changed it’s original theatrical strategy to limit the theaters it debuts in this weekend from a wide release to a very limited run. But, Isle of Dogs is easily one of the best films of the year so far and well worth seeking out, and hopefully will become more accessible in the upcoming weeks.
- Genre: Animation, Stop Motion
- Release Date: 3/23rd/2018
- Directed by: Wes Anderson
- Starring: Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Courtney B. Vance, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Ken Watanabe, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono
- Written by: Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura, Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson
- Studio: Fox Searchlight