Atari Kobayashi joins a team of dogs to find his lost dog in Wes Anderson’s delightfully odd animated film, Isle of Dogs. (Source: IMDb)
Wes Anderson is one of the most original filmmakers working today. His deadpan sense of humor juxtaposing his unique visual style, his films are one-of-a-kind. After Bottle Rocket bombed in 1996, he continues to create some of the best movies ever made. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are the ones that made him gain attention in Hollywood. While The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited are very good yet uneven, I think the coming-of-age romance Moonrise Kingdom and the screwball comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel both showcase his talents behind the camera.
However, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is his most ambitious film of his entire career. Not only did he adapt and expand Roald Dahl’s book (in which he loved as a kid), it brings forth stop-motion animation like no other. Isle of Dogs, his ninth film, is his first–and probably, not his last–animated film aimed towards teens and adults (given it’s rated PG-13).
Set 20 years into the future, cats have become the most dominant pet in the Japanese city of Megasaki. Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand) translates the meetings of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), who has banned dogs to a garbage dump called Trash Island due to a canine flu virus. His 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), the first dog ever to be exiled to the island. Once his plane crashes, he is rescued by five dogs–Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and Boss (Bill Murray). Together, they embark on a journey to find the missing dog.
Meanwhile, Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) tries to produce a cure for the virus, and foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) becomes the leader of the dog-ban protests. All the hijinks will decide the fate of Japan.
For someone who has enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films, this movie still proves why Anderson is a genius! It’s another movie that has come out at a perfect time. It’s unusual for a Wes Anderson film to contain a political background including protests against a powerful mayor. It also contains a heartfelt message about the means of a man’s best friend. Top it off with flawless animation (developed by hundreds of animators), a massive voice cast, cartoonish yet occasionally gritty action violence and the fast-paced, witty dialogue, this is Anderson at his most beautiful!
It’s hard not to give Alexandre Desplat a break! He brings forth another great film score! Those taiko drums–which play during the opening and closing credits–sound spectacular!
This movie couldn’t have picked a better voice cast. Bryan Cranston is PERFECT as Chief, a stray and leader of the pack. He fears Atari will do something bad to him and his dog friends. Things do get rough (no pun intended) on the island whenever the dogs fight (which hilariously produces a cloud of smoke). But–he eventually gives in and learns how to be a normal, everyday pet. While the other actors playing the dogs are wonderfully deadpan, especially the circus dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Cranston’s timing hits it home.
Isle of Dogs is far from perfect. There are some narrative flaws and the use of the narrator–when introducing the proceeding chapter (while the words appear in English and Japanese)–becomes a little redundant. Nevertheless, this movie is a painting in motion and something I’ll revisit time and time again.