The closing night film of SXSW brought Wes Anderson’s newest feature, the stop-motion animated Isle Of Dogs, which was earmarked with all the tropes and sensibilities that have come to define him as a filmmaker. Both for better and for worse.
Taking place in the near future, an outbreak of canine flu has caused dogs to be deemed too dangerous to be around humans. To prevent the disease from infecting humans, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) orders all dogs be banished to a remote island and fend for themselves.
The mayor’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), is outraged with this decision and hijacks a small plane before crash-landing on the island in search of his loyal dog Spots (Liev Schrieber). It’s there he meets a pack of former housepets, and one stray, who agree to accompany Atari — who they refer to as ‘the small pilot’ to the other side of the island where they believe Spots resides.
The pack is voiced by a roster of Anderson regulars, including Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, and Bob Balaban. Bryan Cranston voices Chief, the lone stray, who’s reluctant to help Atari at first, only to eventually be convinced by former show dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson).
From there, the predictably whimsical adventure begins, complete with a slew of quirky moments and meticulous dialogue, all framed within Anderson’s aggressive symmetry and twee sensibilities. The film’s four chapters, two flashbacks, and key elements to the story are clearly labeled with the signature yellow sans serif font, though this may be the one film where it’s a necessary addition, given that Anderson does label everything within the film in the proper Japanese characters.
Back in Japan, the staff of a high school paper, led by American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) is determined to uncover what she feels is a conspiracy led by Mayor Kobayashi. The only human character to speak English (outside of the translator — which was an admittedly clever move) Gerwig manages to completely disappear into her stop-motion character. The same can’t be said of the cast of dogs, charming as most of them are during their limited screen time. Only Cranston manages to tune up his typical gravely delivery to seem like he’s giving a performance, instead of just reading a character’s dialogue.
Still, those who are charmed with Anderson’s unique cinematic style will almost certainly find themselves drawn to Isle Of Dogs. It’s admittedly clever animation style is filled with detailed nuances, and gives viewers an all-around pleasant enough experience for its 100 or-so minute runtime.
Isle Of Dogs opens nationwide on March 23rd