Cast: Voices of Liev Shreiber, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, Yoko Ono, Koyu Rankin
Director: Wes Anderson
Several scenes in Wes Anderson’s charming new film Isle of Dogs beg a second viewing, but none more than the one in which a bento box is being prepared. The hand holding a knife works in quick, sharp cuts, almost dancer-like in grace, as it slices fish and other seafood and arranges the sushi. All of this is done in breathtaking stop-motion animation. It’s an unforgettable sequence in Anderson’s heartfelt ode to dogs, loyalty, and the bond of friendship.
As it turns out, Isle of Dogs has little to do with sushi and a lot to do with food for thought. The film is set in a futuristic Japan in the fictional city of Megasaki, where all dogs have been banished by the cat-petting sinister mayor to the isolated badlands of Trash Island after an outbreak of dog flu. Here the banished dogs must rummage and fight for food amongst mounds of rotting garbage.
Among these canines is Spots (voiced by Liev Shreiber), the trusted pet of the mayor’s 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). Unlike all the other dog owners, Atari doesn’t abandon his friend. He hijacks a plane and crashes onto Trash Island in search of Spots. What he finds is a motley gang of dogs: Rex (a terrific Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray, who else) and King (Bob Balaban), who decide to help the ‘Little Pilot’. Only the pack’s leader Chief, voiced by the excellent Bryan Cranston, is aloof. Chief is a stray and naturally suspicious of humans. “I bite,” he warns Atari, and yet, you’re charmed as the boy inevitably bonds with Chief.
Anderson weaves between the past and the present as often as he swerves from Trash Island to Megasaki. The dogs bark in English, while the Japanese dialogues are spare, but not translated. You get the general drift – the mayor is using an army of robot dogs to soon exterminate all the living ones, until an outspoken American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) calls out the mayor’s nefarious plan.
If you’ve watched and loved Anderson’s previous work like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore, and Moonrise Kingdom, you’ll be familiar with the threads in Isle of Dogs. There’s droll wit, there’s rebellion, there’s sweet sentiment, and there are children. Most importantly, there are dogs who show the way to adults. It’s all captivatingly executed in stop-motion animation, which Anderson previously employed in 2009’s The Fantastic Mr Fox. The film’s stellar cast is in good form, including Scarlett Johansson voicing a stoic and beautiful show-dog named Nutmeg. There’s also a cute cameo by Yoko Ono voicing a scientist named…er…Yoko Ono.
Anderson is meticulous in his detailing, and tells a beguiling story that talks about trust, and about learning to value each other.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Isle of Dogs. If the film sometimes bites off more than it can chew, getting too clever for its own good, then perhaps you’ll be forgiving – after all it’s got its heart is in the right place.
Rating: 3.5 / 5