Isle Of Dogs (2018)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 4/15/18
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance, F. Murray Abraham

An outbreak of dog-flu and snout fever causes the sinister Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) of Megasaki City to deport all dogs to Trash Island, where they're doomed to die. The vast majority of the uncaring population goes along with the Mayor's horrific plan, while a handful of dedicated scientists desperately try to find a cure. A lone 12-year old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane and flies to Trash Island in a hopeless attempt to find his dog Spots, and a group of alpha dogs decide to help him in his quest. Back on the mainland, a foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects something fishy is going on, and is determined to uncover the Mayor's dirty secrets. Can these brave young souls liberate the dogs on Trash Island before they're all exterminated?

"Isle Of Dogs" is a stunning piece of stop-motion animation, with brilliant art direction and breathtaking visuals. Remarkably, the dog models don't suffer from the same bristling fur issues that were prevalent in Wes Anderson's earlier "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009), which makes me wonder what kind of digital wizardry might have been involved. The cast is incredible and the voice acting is superb throughout. The dogs are all fantastic, while the human characters are quirky, cruel, and bizarre. American student Tracy Walker nearly steals the show with her freckled face, enormous blonde afro, and adolescent rage.

It's a dark, grim, and unsettling fantasy that's both whimsical and horrific, and its harsh realities and brutal satire might be too intense and scary for young and sensitive viewers. Unfortunately, the narrative is weak and clumsy, while extended flashbacks generate unnecessary confusion. The use of Japanese in the film is a double-edged sword. Having Atari speak Japanese is brilliant, because the dogs on Trash Island (along with the audience) can't understand what he's saying. That forces the characters to rely on gestures and intuition to help each other out. It doesn't work so well with the other human characters, because they ultimately end up being translated by English speaking characters rather than just being subtitled. Courtney B. Vance provides a wonderful narration, but the whole presentation feels force fed and dumbed down. Despite my various quibbles about the tone and structure of the story, it's still an amazing film and an astonishing piece of cinematic art. It may also be the only film in history that will ever feature an animated kidney transplant.