Seeing the newest film by writer/director Wes Anderson is always a must for my wife and me. A true auteur, Anderson’s unusual story-telling technique creates a uniquely charming movie experience that has become synonymous with his name. The stop-motion animated film, ISLE OF DOGS is his most recent achievement that had me grinning ear to ear from start to finish.
Due to an outbreak of a dog carrying virus, the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Ken Watanabe) of Megasaki City, Japan has banished all canine pets to a vast garbage-dump island. The mayor’s 12-year-old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), steals a miniature plane and flies to Trash Island to find his bodyguard-dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). With the help of a newly-formed pack of mongrel friends, Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban), Atari begins an epic journey that will ultimately decide the fate and future of all dogs.
As usual, Wes Anderson has enlisted an all-star cast of voice talent. In additional supporting roles are: Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Courtney B. Vance and Greta Gerwig as an American foreign-exchange student who is leading the activism charge against the corrupt mayor’s executive decree to exile all dogs. For authenticity, all languages remain in their native tongue with subtitles, however barks have been translated to English.
All of Anderson’s signature characteristics are present – the dry deliveries, the precise framing, and the always fun use of detailed lists and inventories. With a soundtrack reminiscent of SEVEN SAMURAI, the wonderful drum-pounding score by Alexandre Desplat keeps the 101-minute runtime moving at a brisk pace. The exquisite art direction and production design is always worth viewing and the film will surely be an Oscar front-runner for Best-Animation.
Rated PG-13, ISLE OF DOGS is not necessarily meant to be a children’s movie. However, I would be curious what 13-year-olds would think of this film. While the subject is somewhat dark thematically with a few mildly violent images, the story has a positive message. The entire picture has a charm and good-nature about it that will tickle adults and could potentially amuse older children who find Anderson’s unique approach appealing.
One’s enjoyment of ISLE OF DOGS will hinder greatly on whether or not you are a fan of Wes Anderson’s structure and style. While I have admittedly been a bigger fan of his earlier work (BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS), I’ve come to appreciate his more recent endeavors as well (FANTASTIC MR. FOX -also stop-motion animation, MOONRISE KINGDOM, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL). Co-written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura, ISLE OF DOGS currently stacks up as one of my favorites and that’s saying a lot.
ISLE OF DOGS cleverly crafts a simple story of good over coming evil through a series of humorous depictions of corrupt government and standing up for what is right as an individual while helping one another. With humor and heart, ISLE OF DOGS is a delightful and charming film that had me reacting out loud on more than a couple of occasions, but always with a smile on my face.