Ever wondered what would happen if stop motion master Ray Harryhausen and Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa went to see “Benji” and then decided to make a movie? With the release of “Isle of Dogs” Wes Anderson, director of live action wonders like “Rushmore” and “Moonrise Kingdom” and the stop motion hit “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” offers up an idea of what that might have been like.
Once again working in stop motion, Anderson creates a fictional world, the Japanese city of Megasaki, twenty years from now. An epidemic of dog flu prompts the fear mongering Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) to forewarn that snout fever is about to spread to humans and order all dogs deported to a toxic wasteland called Trash Island.
Dog-zero is Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber), the beloved pet of the mayor’s orphaned ward 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin). When he is deported the boy makes the dangerous journey across the river in a prop plane to look for his dog. With the help of newfound mongrel pals, including the good-natured Rex (Edward Norton), former baseball mascot Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban), the gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Chief (Bryan Cranston) and Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Atari takes on the corrupt government.
“Isle of Dogs” is a fairy tale with a bite. Anderson, one of the most distinctive directors working today (or any day for that matter), brings a child-like wonder and unfettered imagination to bring this boy-and-his-dog story to vivid life. Gorgeous, soulful stop motion animation and Anderson’s trademarked banter combined with a timely story of deportation and exile makes for an unforgettable film.
The usual complaints about Anderson’s work, that it’s too detailed, too eccentric, will be levelled at this movie but I’d argue it is his obsessiveness that brings the creative magic. Subplots and flashbacks take the viewer on a wild journey but Anderson’s attention to every element, visual and narrative, guarantees the rambunctious story never loses itself in its own elaborate style.
There jokes throughout—even the title is a playful take on “I love dogs”—but just as important are the messages of tolerance. You will not see another film like “Isle of Dogs” this year. So effortlessly cinematic and inventive, it’s best in show.