1 hr. 41 min. | Rated PG | Violence & Coarse Language
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Bud Cort, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray
Expect to wag your metaphorical tail in delight over Wes Anderson's new animated joyride into a canine universe with political undercurrents sure to strike a human chord. It's art cinema instilled with a child's sense of wonder – which is also true of of the quirky auteur's live-action films, from Rushmore to The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Co-written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, Isle of Dogs is set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki about 20 years into the future. When snout-fever, a.k.a. dog flu, hits the metropolis, a fear-mongering Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by co-writer Nomura) uses the pandemic as an excuse to deport all dogs. "Whatever happened to man's best friend?" asks a concerned translator (Frances McDormand), as these four-legged citizens are shipped off to Trash Island, a toxic wasteland where survival is iffy at best.
The first pooch is go is Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber), a short-haired Oceanic speckle-eared sport hound who happens to be the beloved pet of the mayor's orphaned ward, 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin). So naturally the boy hops in his prop plane and flies – or rather, crash-lands – to the rescue. He gets help from a scruffy canine team led by Rex (Edward Norton), along with Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Another ally is Chief, a stray that the terrific Bryan Cranston intones with just the right notes of confidence and genuine vulnerability ("I'm not a violent dog, I don't know why I bite"). The mutt flirts with a show dog named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), but touchingly grows to understand the love between Atari and Spots.
That basic boy-and-his-dog story anchors the film even as the writer-director unleashes a whirlwind of subplots and side trips that would topple a lesser movie. He makes the clever decision to turn all barks into spoken English while Japanese humans converse, unsubtitled, in their native tongue – it sounds like chaos but pays off handsomely.
“It's silly, charming, exquisitely animated and gloriously original”
“This hugely enjoyable package shows an indefatigably fertile imagination“