Isle of Dogs

I’m guessing there are more Wes Anderson movies I dislike than like, but I always get excited when there’s a new one, hoping I’ll like it as much as I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom. I’m always hoping it’s not another Grand Budapest Hotel (at least that movie gave Tina Fey the opportunity to use the funny line at the Golden Globes “Wes arrived on a bicycle made of antique tuba parts.”)

This stop-motion animation did have some antique things in it, and the usual Wes whimzy and craziness. It’s an adorable love letter to dogs that everyone will enjoy. It is PG-13, and probably not suitable for kids under 10, though  (I’m thinking of a scene where fish are chopped up making sushi, or a kidney is transplanted).

The story involves a long war between dogs and cat-loving samurai in Megasaki City, Japan. When many of the canines contract snout fever and other diseases, and strays have overrun the population, drastic measures are called for. Mayor Kobayashi, a descendant of the samurai, has all the dogs sent to Trash Island. It’s like a leper colony for the furry guys.

The Mayor and his evil goons have one small problem. The Mayor had adopted 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi when his parents were killed. He had a guard dog named “Spots” that was the first one sent to the island. So, on an airplane that looks like it was built with antique tuba parts, Atari lands on the island in search of his best friend.

There are various packs of dogs on the island that fight and scrounge for food. Chief (Bryan Cranston) is the toughest of the dogs, and he bosses around a pack that have been pampered by their owners. The voices of those dogs include Wes Anderson regulars: Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Jeff Goldblum.

Chief thinks they should eat Atari. The other dogs don’t believe you should ever “eat a master.” So instead, they take him on a journey to find Spots (Liev Schreiber).

The Mayor sends militarized robot dogs to kill these mutts, and a drone to bring back Atari. And during all of that, we get taken on an incredible ride with wonderful visuals and lots of humor.

The industrial wasteland is interesting, and as gross as all the trash is, you can’t take your eyes off it.

The pounding taiko drum pieces enhance the score, which is done by the talented Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water).

It’s a shame that some critics have decided to knock certain elements of the movie, whether that’s how the Japanese culture is portrayed, or the hero being a foreign exchange student that’s a white girl (Greta Gerwig). There will probably be many that talk about how perfect this is in the political climate we currently have, but that’s flawed logic, too (I won’t go into a political diatribe as to why).

The movie is a lot more fun when we don’t try to analyze what political motives Anderson may have had, or if he’s guilty of cultural appropriation, and just enjoy the colorful characters we meet along the way. One of those would be Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), a show dog that’s recently arrived on Trash Island. There’s also a pug named Oracle (Tilda Swinton), that everyone thinks can see the future with visions (she’s really just watching the news on TV). A wild pack of dogs are led by Gondo (Harvey Keitel). And, Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono seeking a cure to snout fever – voiced by Yoko Ono!

It’s always fun when Frances McDormand pops up in a movie, as she does here as the translator, but her character is silly.

A few of my friends name Spirited Away as their all-time favorite movie. This film is Miyazaki-esque at times, and I’m sure they’ll love this. And so will animal lovers, or just fans of film in general.

The plot doesn’t warrant a movie this long, but it’s a wild and unique ride.

3 ½ stars out of 5.