Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion movie is an intricate, emotional and exceptionally entertaining tail of adventure.
It can’t be a coincidence that the title of Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” sounds almost exactly like “I Love Dogs.” Anderson’s second stop-motion animated feature is a love letter to canines, the people who love their canines, and the unwavering loyalty that canines have come to represent all over the world. It’s also his mostly vivid and imaginative motion picture to date, and that’s really saying something.
Isle of Dogs take place in the near future, in the Japanese city of Megasaki, where the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has exiled every single dog to a nearby island full of garbage. Kobayashi says he wants to protect his city from canine diseases, but he’s actually involved in a complex multigenerational revenge scheme that dates back centuries, to the time when dogs screwed over the Kobayashi clan. Besides, the Kobayashis are totally “cat” people.
Six months after their exile, a pack of scrappy dogs – Chief (Brian Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – stumble across a twelve-year-old boy who ran away from home, stole an airplane and flew to the Isle of Dogs to find his best friend, Spots. And since Atari (Koyu Rankin) is the only human being who has ever come collect their dog, most of the dogs in the pack are willing to do anything to help him out.
The naysayer is Chief, a stray who doesn’t understand what true friendship is all about. Or, if that’s too cuddly an explanation for you, he’s never been domesticated so he just doesn’t care. Anyway, he bites. But Chief gets dragged along for the adventure despite his objections, and so they all journey from nuclear waste sites to abandoned amusement parks and beyond.
Wes Anderson has unusual ideas of what constitutes an adventure, of course. His fight scenes are just cotton ball dust clouds full of limbs punching each other, and sometimes he’ll go to all the trouble of setting up a horrifyingly elaborate death machine of violence and then watch in bemused fascination as it simply breaks down. Isle of Dogs is not about pulse-pounding suspense. It’s about lovable characters on a dangerous quest, scrambling from one unpredictable scenario to another, as they desperately try care for one another in a world run by corrupt jerks who are trying to tear them apart.
Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s most superficially appealing film – it’s chockablock with great gags, cute characters and whimsical set pieces – but it’s also another emotionally mature, intelligent motion picture. You can pick apart the pieces of this diorama and find that they have symbolic meaning, and speak volumes about the historical and (sadly) ongoing use of propaganda to manipulate the masses through targeted xenophobia. You’ll have some fascinating and maybe even difficult conversations if that’s what you’re in the mood for. You might even get teary-eyed as Chief gradually finds himself becoming a “people” person. Or a “people” dog. Or what have you.
Then again, you can also sit back and watch a cute little film about a pack of dogs helping a boy find another lost dog, and you’ll be completely entertained, grinning from ear to ear, the whole danged time.