Writer-director Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation (after 2009’s underwhelming The Fantastic Mr. Fox) with the charming new film Isle of Dogs.
In a futuristic Japan, dogs have been unjustly blamed for a viral outbreak and banished to an abandoned, trash-filled island. A young boy (voiced by Koyu Rankin) travels to the island to find his dog. He gets the help of a ragtag pack of dogs (voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum).
Much of what follows is funny in the quirky, low-key way Anderson can be at his best. A clever gimmick has the boy speaking in Japanese without subtitles while the dogs speak English. It’s a nifty way of reminding the audience that dogs can’t really understand what their masters are saying. And even when the humor lags, the animation is always gorgeous.
The interplay between the main dogs is charming, which makes it a bit of a let down when the dogs voiced by Murray, Goldblum, Norton, and Balaban all but disappear in the film’s final act (Cranston’s dog is the hero of the movie and has a decent character arc).
But overall, Isle of Dogs is a fun journey, even for people like me who aren’t dog lovers. Note to parents: Isle of Dogs is PG-13 for a couple of brief moments of fairly tame gore. The content isn’t really objectionable, but Anderson’s humor might fly over the heads of young children.