A boy‘s search for his beloved dog is a never-ending delight in Wes Anderson’s hugely inventive new animated film ISLE OF DOGS.
ISLE OF DOGS. But if you say it again, it sounds like ‘I love dogs’. Genius. That’s one of the hundreds of delights in store for you in writer/director Wes Anderson‘s giddy new animated adventure. He’s followed up his last two films, both of which I’ve reviewed on the blog – 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom and 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – with a stop-motion animation that will make you laugh and touch your heart. Missing out seeing the film on its cinema release, I’ve very happily just seen it on-demand.
After a charming prologue presenting the legend of a boy samurai defeating the head of a clan in a war between cat and dog lovers, we’re 20 years into the future in the city of Megasaki, Japan. Here, the stern Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) rules with an iron will – and a love of cats. A convenient outbreak of dog flu has resulted in all of the city’s pooches being quarantined offshore on a place called Trash Island. The dogs have formed packs to survive and the five we’re introduced to are worthy companions on our journey. There’s Rex, Duke, King and Boss – voiced by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray respectively. But it’s the scraggy, scrappy Chief – winningly voiced by Bryan Cranston – who leads this motley crew and whose own history will be tied up in this delightful doggy adventure.
The gang’s life changes forever with the arrival on the island of a young boy, Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin). He’s the mayor’s orphaned nephew and he’s flown there to search for his beloved dog Spots (the always excellent Liev Schreiber). Because it was Spots you see, who was the first dog to be quarantined on Trash Island. Atari has resolved to find him and he teams up with the five dogs to track Spots down.
This canine rescue mission forms the heart of ISLE OF DOGS. But back in Megasaki, there’s another key element of the story unfolding. An enthusiastic exchange student called Tracy Walker (a perfectly cast Greta Gerwig) suggests to her class that Mayor Kobayashi is corrupt and it’s their job to prove this whilst bringing the plight of the quarantined dogs to public attention. She also misses her pooch, you see – the pretty, ginger show dog Nutmeg (a sassy Scarlett Johansson) who’s already captivated Chief back on the island in a meet-cute reminiscent of Bogart and Bacall in their heyday. What’s more, there are also whispers of a cure for these abandoned dogs discovered by the eminent Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) which have been quashed by the Kobayashi government. And so Tracy bravely pursues this lead by contacting Yoko (Yoko Ono!) the assistant scientist to the Professor, when he is mysteriously found dead! Are you keeping up??
Can the brave Tracy prove that Mayor Kobayashi is behind the dastardly deeds that have led to the quarantining of the city’s lovable mutts? Will Atari be reunited with Spots and perhaps prove the legend of the valiant boy samurai true all over again? And could Chief be the doggy hero of the hour and also discover something rather wonderful about his past? What do you think?!
Anderson imbues all of this with his trademark sharp humour, allowing you to laugh at the absurdity and also the pertinence of the story he’s constructed – a rogue government acting outside its remit for their own ends. Sound familiar? But real-world connections aside, it’s the cleverness and inventiveness of the animation that’s the main event here. It matches, or perhaps even eclipses, the director’s superb telling of Roald Dahl’s classic Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009. Can you tell that I loved ISLE OF DOGS? It’s quite simply a joyful journey to an isle of wonder. See it!