Wes Anderson’s animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and the visually stunning The Grand Budapest Hotel, are still in mind, and he delivers the brilliant stop-motion animation film Isle Of Dogs. The film is not just beautifully written (by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) and meticulously rendered, but also has a strong message, that is the need of these violently intolerant times.
There have been some rumbles about the portrayal of Japan in the film (though Japanese samurai movies and anime are an obvious inspiration), but audiences are likely to be too captivated with the film to take offence over racial stereotyping.
Isle Of Dogs is set 20 years in the future, in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. When an outbreak of snout fever or dog flu hits the city, its cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), decides that all dogs must be deported to Trash Island, to protect humans. Kobayashi sets an example by sending a dog from his own household — Spots (Liev Schreiber) — to the toxic island full of garbage and vermin.
The dogs dumped there like junk, have to scavenge for scraps to stay alive, among them Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) — all of whom had lived comfortable, pampered lives before being inhumanly quarantined — and the scrappy stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston).
Then, the sling-shot wielding, 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin), nephew of the Mayor, lands on the island to hunt for his beloved Spots. He joins up with Rex and gang for his mission. Interesting, the dogs speak (bark?) in English, while the humans speak Japanese, and no subtitles are needed, just some lines are translated by an interpreter (Frances McDormand).
It is a classic story of friendship, loyalty, bravery and compassion, but Anderson has peppered it with skillfully layered wit and pathos, while production designers (Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod) and puppet designer Andy Gent have created an exquisitely detailed imaginary universe — both the beautiful and the hideous.
All films require hard work, but Isle of Dogs has been made with patience and love, that is communicated to the audience — this one requires multiple viewings to savour it properly.