Wes Anderson's second stop-motion animated film "Isle of Dogs" (first was "Fantastic Mr. Fox", 2009) is a futuristic adventure set in Japan where a mass anti-dog campaign has taken place. It's impossible to imagine all of our beloved canines, especially our little guy, Kirby, being shipped off somewhere, much less a wretched place named Trash Island --- but that's what Anderson has in store for us here.
A dangerous outbreak of Snout-Fever and Dog-Flu has engulfed the city of Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) announces plans to quarantine all of the dogs, both domesticated and stray, by removing them to an exile colony. Even his 12-year-old orphan ward, Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin) must give up his bodyguard dog and best friend, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber).
Despite all of the brave efforts by Professor Watanabe (voiced by Akira Ito) who has developed a cure, and his Assistant-Scientist Yoko-Ono (voiced by Yoko Ono), the four-legged creatures are doomed to spend the rest of their days on Trash Island. But six months later, a very small single-engine plane carrying Atari crash lands onto the trash-heaped island. He is desperate to find Spots, and a pack of four former pets, Rex (voiced by Edward Norton), Boss (voiced by Bill Murray), King (voiced by Bob Balaban) and Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), plus a stray named Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) --- who doesn't want to help --- team up with Atari to reunite him with his best friend.
Writer/director Anderson and his story collaborators Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura have outdone themselves with this wild odyssey involving mystery, intrigue, lots of action and humor --- but most of all, a story steeped in the importance of friendship and loyalty. He has been the brilliant mind behind such stalwarts as "Rushmore", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Moonrise Kingdom" and the unparalleled "The Grand Budapest Hotel". He and his teams manage to weave stories that are so complex --- so creative --- and "Isle of Dogs" is no exception.
The major themes in "Isle of Dogs" are mirrored by what is going on in our world today. False information --- or fake news, if you please --- is being disseminated to the residents of Megasaki City regarding dogs and their toxicity to humans by Mayor Kobayashi and his Assistant Hatchet-Man, Major Domo (voiced by Akira Takayama). Of course, nothing is being reported on the horrible conditions forced upon all of the canine victims on Trash Island. But conspiracy theorist, pro-dog activist and American foreign exchange student, Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig) proves her mettle by taking on the mayor's corrupt administration.
Not all moviegoers will appreciate Anderson and his team's homage to legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who had a penchant for engaging and ambitious storytelling. But the writers of "Isle of Dogs" were intent on following his path and utilizing, once again, the process of stop-motion animation. It's an understatement to write that this type of animation is utterly painstaking and complicated.
The production of "Isle of Dogs", which lasted two years, involved more than 670 crew, including more than 70 manning the puppet department, of which there were 1000 puppets --- 500 canine and 500 human --- and another 38 in the animation department. And only a few seconds of animation can be shot in a day.
The photography and 240 set designs are also amazing. "Isle of Dogs" is nothing if not superior in its jaw-dropping sets and music. For the fourth time, Anderson has teamed with composer Alexandre Desplat, who won an Oscar for Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel", and just this month for Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water". Using ancient taiko drums and mixing them with more modern instruments, Desplat and Brooklyn-based composer, Kaoru Watanabe, who created the extraordinary opening drum sequence, have added memorable music to the mix.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
"Isle of Dogs", director Wes Anderson's latest film, and his second stop-motion production following "Fantastic Mr. Fox", is unlike anything you've ever seen before in the world of animation. Thus it becomes an instant contender for an Academy Award for Best Animated feature. By all means, the movie is a must-see, but I urge you to hug your pup before leaving for the cinema. Otherwise, you will find it difficult to wait until you return home to do so.
"Isle of Dogs" is visually spectacular, features an incredible cast of voice actors, and immediately captures the audience's attention with an hypnotic score by frequent Anderson collaborator Alexandre Desplat, one of the composing giants in cinematic history. Desplat melds 6th century Japanese taiko drums with ordinary instruments, like saxophones and clarinets, to achieve an unforgettable sound.
The personification of animals in movies is, of course, nothing new, but in "Isle of Dogs", Anderson has imbued his canine characters with an intelligence level above a lot of humans. Although his movie was first conceived in 2015, I couldn't help but see parallels between the storyline and the current Washington administration.
When Megasaki City is threatened by rampant cases of Snout-Fever, Mayor Kobayashi declares an immediate anti-dog policy that will send every canine to Trash Island. This knee-jerk reaction is depicted by the animators as a zip-line from the city to the island, where the dogs are unceremoniously dumped from a bin that opens at the bottom.
The stop-motion technique employed in "Isle of Dogs" is more fluid than other movies of this genre, that is, not many herky-jerky movements of the characters. There are countless memorable moments, but none more so than a sushi-making scene that required four animators working for two months, and a kidney transplant episode that is completely intriguing.
The all-star cast includes the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, F. Murray Abraham, Anjelica Huston, Liev Schreiber, Tilda Swinton and Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono). See Jeanne's review for the specific roles in detail.
Early on in "Isle of Dogs", Chief (voiced by Cranston) meets and is smitten by Nutmeg (voiced by Johansson). Of their canine relationship, Johansson says that "Nutmeg recognizes in Chief a fighting spirit and a leadership quality she admires. Plus, he has just the right amount of bite; and who doesn't like a guy with bite?"
Swinton, the voice of Oracle, sums it up nicely about portraying a dog: "The heart of a dog is a bottomless thing". And Murray adds, "they are the property of heaven." "Isle of Dogs" must be seen on the big screen --- it is an amazing achievement in filmmaking.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!