What a fun movie! I don’t think Wes Anderson has made a film I didn’t like, so that’s no surprise, but the creative choices he made in this one are even more entertaining than usual. The story takes place in a town in Japan and all the humans speak untranslated Japanese, except for some public occasions where there is a simultaneous translator. Only the dogs speak English, voiced by a veritable A-list cast. (Bryan Cranston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, and many more) The only thing that’s clear is that Mayor Kobayashi hates dogs (cat lover!) and he’s determined to rid his town of every last one, exiling them to a garbage covered island. But human hero to the rescue! Kobayashi’s 12-year-old nephew/ward Atari goes in search of his beloved pooch and uncovers a conspiracy at the highest levels.
When Atari crash lands his stolen plane on the island, he meets a group of five dogs who set out to help him find his dog Spots. Four of the dogs – Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) — are pets themselves. The fifth is Chief (Cranston), a scrappy stray who is reticent to join in the hunt, but of course ends up being the leader of the pack. What’s great about these dogs is that they act very much like real dogs, not just people dressed up as dogs. And they really do each have their own distinctive personalities.
Story wise the film is a pretty straightforward odyssey, but the visuals are simply amazing and make up for a slightly too long journey. The stop-motion animation is a beautiful blend of Japanese and American styles, and the dogs are fabulous. The voice casting gives it just the right tone. I’m not sure it is as good as Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (no Clooney), but it’s a lot of fun. It’s quirky and funny and Wes Anderson fans will no doubt enjoy it. Grown-up dog lovers and animation aficionados, too. I don’t think it’s a kids flick, though perhaps some of them might get into it just for the dogs. I, however, was thoroughly entertained!
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I liked it okay, but not as much as Arty Chick. It’s great for Wes Anderson fans, but may not click with the broader audience. And, despite the fact that it’s animated and has dogs, this quirky film is definitely not for young kids. It is, however, fun to make people say ‘Isle of Dogs’ three-times fast. Try it… -hb]