By Chic DiCiccio
Now that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are printing currency in virtually every country on the planet, most major movie studios have backed away from this weekend. In fact, it’s safe to assume that the next month will be dominated by “Avengers: Infinity War.” If super hero flicks aren’t your bag, there is a movie that was released just about a month ago that slipped under the public radar.
That movie is Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” a stop motion animation tribute to the films of Akira Kurosawa and, naturally, dogs. It’s earned slightly more than $45 million, which for Anderson’s career could be considered a fortune, but it feels like a movie that not enough people have run out to see.
“Isle of Dogs” takes place in a futuristic Japan that is stricken by the “dog flu.” The mayor of Megasaki City, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), orders all dogs to be rounded up and exiled to Trash Island. The first dog that is sent over is Spots (Liev Schrieber), the guard dog of the Mayor’s orphaned nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin).
After six months, life on Trash Island has become difficult for dogs, who are delivered scraps of food via drones. One of the toughest groups of dogs is led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), who was a stray prior to exile. His crew consists of Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).
After Atari flies a tiny airplane to Trash Island, Chief’s gang helps him out on his quest to find Spots. Meanwhile, an American exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig), investigates what she believes to be a government conspiracy. All of this leads to a mountain of quirky scenes that one would expect from an Anderson-directed film.
It’s hard to believe that a story from Anderson, Nomura (who voices the Mayor), Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman about exiled dogs would tackle political satire, but that is exactly what “Isle of Dogs” does. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of Wes Anderson Tweeness and the satire doesn’t get too heavy. Of course, it would be tough to be that heavy when the stars of your movie are talking dogs.
And they definitely talk. A lot. Each dog has its own personality and they speak exactly like actors in every Anderson film to date. The quirkiness of it is that they speak in perfect English and they cannot understand Japanese.
Sure, all the normal knocks of Anderson’s work are present. It’s too precious, arty for art’s sake and overly surreal. No matter what, the precision of the animation is impossible to ignore, which makes this his most impressive directorial performance to date. Each frame is painstakingly perfect, from the movement of the wool used as dog’s hair to the color palette used for each character. It could add up to award’s praise for cinematographer Tristan Oliver.
“Isle of Dogs” doesn’t have the laugh-out-loud, zany moments of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” but more the clever smirk of “Rushmore.” Naturally, this is a must for Anderson fans (who are basically a cult now) and also for dog lovers. It’s a huge love letter to the world’s favorite domesticated animal and further proves this statement — “Dogs. We don’t deserve ’em.”