Best in show.
Wes Anderson is in undoubtedly a true auteur by Hollywood standards. His quirky style and attention to visual detail has made him every hipster’s favorite filmmaker, but even mainstream audiences have finally started to catch on to his work. Anderson’s latest project has more mass appeal than all of his previous works thanks to its furry and friendly subject matter, Isle of Dogs, his second foray into the stop motion animation genre.
Isle of Dogs takes place in the not too distant dystopian future in Megasaki City, Japan, where an outbreak of dog flu and other various diseases has infected the dog population. The mayor of Megasaki City, Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), declares a state of emergency, and banishes all dogs to a nearby trash island, becoming the isle of dogs. However, a little boy named Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin) flies to the island in the hopes of finding his dog, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber). Upon reaching the island a pack of dogs consisting of Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston), Rex (voiced by Edward Norton), King (voiced by Bob Balaban), Boss (voiced by Bill Murray), and Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) attempt to help Atari. Meanwhile, a young exchange student from Cincinnati, Ohio named Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig) believes she is on the verge of uncovering a political conspiracy as to why the virus is seemingly incurable.
The animation in the film is nothing short of astounding. All of the dogs have their own unique characteristics that makes them who they are, and their scruffy, sickly look truly resembles that of abandoned dogs. The animation also lends itself well to the human characters and their environments, as Megasaki City illuminates Asian culture in ways not even live action films can accomplish. This marks yet another visually stunning entry in Wes Anderson’s career, and even perhaps his best yet.
Anderson’s trademark quirky humor is also ever present in the film. One may not have thought about it beforehand, but the ability for canines to communicate to us through just their looks and reactions fits perfectly with Anderson’s humor. The added fact the dogs can talk and communicate is also an added bonus, as their reactions and thoughts are conveyed in hilarious fashion throughout the film.
As far as the all star voice cast, Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton do a fantastic job as Chief and Rex, providing the film with a veteran presence. Bill Murray also gets his licks in as Boss, a liver spotted mutt for a Japanese baseball team that will have you rolling. Greta Gerwig as the exchange student Tracy Walker and Frances McDormand as an interpreter of the events unfolding also provide humanity and funny commentary to the film, proving the canines aren’t the only ones holding their own. The rest of the voice cast, rounded out by Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schriber, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, and Tilda Swindon also hit their marks and provide even more hilarity to the film.
The story itself is also quite timely considering the current state of of America. The current political happenings revolving around corruption and fear based rationale are explored in the film to tremendous results. The theory of basing political agendas on fear of “the other” or those unlike us is not only relevant, but also cautions us of a slippery slope that could become our reality should we continue our biased and paranoid ways.
Isle of Dogs is a delight. Not only does the film make good on its furry premise, but also provides timely commentary of our current political state. With an all star voice cast that is able to execute the director’s trademark style and humor and near perfect animation, Isle of Dogs is easily one of the year’s best films. Were it performing in the National Dog Show, Isle of Dogs would easily win best in show.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.
Isle of Dogs stars Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Koyu Rankin, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, and Scarlett Johansson. It is in limited release now, and expands nationwide April 13th.