Wes Anderson stumbled across the idea for his new Japanese-inspired animated film while working on a movie in London.
While driving across town, the Texan writer/director went past the turn for the Isle of Dogs, a vintage location where a 16th century king housed his hunting animals.
In true Anderson fashion, he transformed this Victorian concept into a modern Asian allegory that has the cinematic heart of a classic children’s film and the gripping plot of heavy adult drama.
“Isle of Dogs” describes exactly what one thinks it might, a trash junkyard island where all the canines of Megasaki City have been banished by decree after a massive dog flu outbreak.
A pack of once domesticated dogs — Chief, Duke, Rex, Boss and King — stumble upon a young boy in search of his missing dog Spots while the Mayor of Megasaki City plots to get rid of the canines once and for all.
Meant as a not-so-subtle allegory for immigration issues, “Isle of Dogs” keeps the rhetoric largely in check while still making Anderson’s thoughts on the matter convincingly clear.
Anderson makes the wonderful decision to place audiences in the paws (as it were) of the titular dogs, allowing viewers to understand them in plain English while the Japanese citizens speak in their native tongue.
Seems are deliberately written in such a way that the foreign dialogue can be easily be understood, whether through context clues or deliberate translation.
Voice acting is key to the success of the film’s satirical, quip heavy screenplay with Anderson leaning heavily on frequent collaborators like Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum in the film’s snappy pace and keep audiences rolling in their seats.
First time Anderson actors Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson and Courtney B. Vance round out the talented, pitch perfect supporting cast.
Just as impressive is the technical wizardry performed by Anderson’s illustrious team of puppeteers, animators and designers, who intricately frame each individual movement, twitch and line of dialogue claymation cast of hundreds.
Taken all together, “Isle of Dogs” impresses with a visually quirky wonder. But upon closer examination, the intricate detail to the blink of an eye or a wag of the tail sets “Isle of Dogs” apart from middling animated fodder.
There’s so much to see within every moment of “Isle of Dogs” that a second viewing may be required to simply revel in the film’s simple beauty.
Details in texture and composition will go easily overlooked for first-time audiences as they focus more on the story at hand then what actually appears on screen.
Without question, “Isle of Dogs” sets the bar for animated features in 2018 and is almost assuredly a lock in that Oscar category early next year. This would match the universal acclaim for Anderson’s 2009 film “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which lost a close Academy Awards race to “Up.”
Additionally, it would be unsurprising if a Best Original Score nomination loomed for the melodically hypnotizing work of Alexandre Desplat, fresh off of a win this year for “The Shape of Water.”
“Isle of Dogs” probably isn’t best for younger audiences as the film’s highbrow humor and allegorical storyline will likely prove too heavy for children under 12.
However, fans of Anderson’s other work or smart, sophisticated comedy will find “Isle of Dogs” a refreshingly off-kilter, change of pace feature worth seeking out at the theaters.