No matter the subject matter, you can always count on Wes Anderson to come up with something unlike anything else out there. From his most recent Oscar-winning The Grand Budapest Hotel and past gems like Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, Anderson’s movies may be an acquired taste for some but definitely belong on the must-see list for smart audiences. This also includes his occasional dalliances with animation, particularly the handcrafted stop-motion brand that won him a 2009 Oscar nomination for the brilliant The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and now almost a decade later his latest stab in the ‘toon world, the charming, bizarre, and just plain weird Isle Of Dogs. Canines have often been a favored character for animators but, as I say in my video review above, never quite like this.
Jumping straight into the style of Japanese cinema and even anime for a bit, Anderson and co-writers Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura take us about two decades into a futuristic Megasaki City, which is a little like Blade Runner meets Seven Samurai. It is run by the corrupt Kobayashi Dynasty, an authoritarian government that prefers cats and uses fear tactics and untruths to put down the less privileged members of their society. Sound familiar, except for the “prefer cats” part? It’s certainly a timely parable if that is what Anderson wants it to be. Despite the fact that dogs have been demonstrated to be the pet of choice since at least the 10th century, the administration is determined to quarantine and banish the breeds to Trash Island, home to rats and compacted garbage. The Dynasty also puts the kibosh on a promising vaccine to deal with an outbreak of dog flu, or, as it is known, “snout fever.” Instead, they use this to instill fear and panic among the population.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a band of roaming dogs struggling to survive. They include the nominal leader Rex (Edward Norton), baseball-crazy Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban), chatty Duke (Jeff Goldblum), the ever self-questioning Chief (Bryan Cranston) and former beauty queen Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson). This pack doesn’t always make the right decisions — including heading straight into an automated trash compacter, a trip that provides more than a few harrowing moments for the bark brigade. Into this mix comes Atari (Koyu Rankin), a 12 year old looking for his beloved dog Spots, rumored to have been eaten by canine cannibals, or canineabals if you will. Whether this is the case (visuals earlier in the film lead us to believe it is true) is the mystery that must be solved. With robotic attack dogs and war being waged there is lots of action going on. Among others on the island are more Oscar-winning voices in the guise of Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham), Oracle (Tilda Swinton), Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel and even Yoko Ono played by yes, Yoko Ono. Helping to sort things out is American reporter Tracy (Greta Gerwig).
Anderson and company provide a dense and complex storyline for this troupe of voice actors and the puppets they inhabit (beautifully supervised by Andy Gent). Production design and all tech credits are first rate, with a terrific Asian-flavored score provided by Anderson’s composer of choice Alexandre Desplat. It’s more fun than you can imagine, a virtual Grand Budapets Hotel of delights. Producers are Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales and Anderson. Fox Searchlight opens it Friday.
Do you plan to see Isle Of Dogs? Let us know what you think.