From the very moment Wes Anderson announced his new feature, his cult-like fan base has ardently awaited the arrival of what appeared to be an intriguing and inventive new animated picture, littered with the stylistic hallmarks and distinctive humour that characterise his illustrious body of work. Isle of Dogs is equally as accomplished as its predecessors in its witty dialogue, dry vocal performances and touching premise, boasting a dazzling ensemble cast which culminates in one of Anderson’s most sharply funny pieces of work since 1998’s Rushmore.
The plot that underpins this stop-motion animated delight goes a little something like this: the futuristic ‘Japanese archipelago’ decides to banish all the canine inhabitants of Megasaki City to a figurative dumping ground entitled ‘Trash Island’ due to an outbreak of canine flu, described by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) as making the dogs a dangerous and unpredictable part of Japanese society. On the island, a group of self-proclaimed ‘indestructible alpha dogs’ scavenge for survival, headed by Bryan Cranston’s aloof, grumpy and battle-worn Chief, and comprising Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Ed Norton), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) as loyal and well-preened house dogs who miss the comforts of their domestic origins. Following the crash-landing of Mayor Kobayashi’s ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), in search of his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), a search for the missing canine ensues.
Some have critiqued Anderson for his inaccurate and old-fashioned depiction of Japan, featuring an amalgamation of cultural stereotypes that represent a version of the country that does not exist in any reality. It is clear that Anderson’s infatuation with the country leads to a few mild missteps, approaching the filmmaking process with the kind of wide-eyed westernised enthusiasm that leads to the portrayal of an aesthetic as opposed to a multi-faceted country. He is, of course, well-meaning as ever in his approach though, evidently besotted with Japan’s culture, which translates into Alexandre Desplat’s striking taiko drum score. The score combines effortlessly with the rich, earthy tones of the set design, depicting expansive dystopian vistas contrasted with the charming puppetry of the dogs and human characters alike, to create a tactile and charming experience that truly capitalises on the comical physicality of its stop-motion centrepieces.
Isle of Dogs is a delightfully strange, endearingly funny and visually creative piece of work which further consolidates the unmistakable iconography of Anderson’s brand with a fresh and genuinely moving new tale. His astute dialogue and well-chosen collaborators complement the film’s decadent score and aesthetic, and create something with huge amounts of heart beneath its surface. Anderson has created a whole host of lovable characters, and a sense of pure wonder that courses through the film’s entire run time; his keen eye for design and flair for dry humour are simply unparalleled in any other area of Hollywood today.