Will you help him? The little pilot.
Why should I?
Because he’s a twelve-year-old boy. Dogs love those.
Wes Anderson has crafted another very particular and precise masterpiece with Isle of Dogs, turning his hand again to what is perhaps the ultimate expression of his fastidiousness and attention to detail: stop-motion animation. He’s created a really wonderful set of characters here, all very different in design and behavior, and placed them in a bizarre dystopian world in which, essentially, dogs have been outlawed in Japan. The ensemble is bizarre and bizarrely perfect. A motley crew of tic-ridden actors have been assembled for the tick-ridden central dog pack. These are people who have Anderson’s rhythms in their bones: Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum are all in truly fine form, getting their laughs from dead-pan deliveries of smart, witty dialogue. Koyu Rankin is excellent as the central human of the story; he’s able to deliver an emotional performance and communicate a wealth about his character with dialogue entirely in Japanese, a language most of the audience here in America doesn’t speak or understand. Liev Schreiber is the Platonic Ideal of heroic warrior dogs in a finely tuned performance. But Bryan Cranston is the star of the show and he imbues the shaggy Chief with a gruff, scraggly, crotchety charm that leaks through his carefully studied cynicism. The building of the relationship between Chief and Atari is the big, sentimental beating heart of this movie and all of Anderson’s irony and fussiness doesn’t do a damn thing to keep it from landing like a ton of bricks. Yes, I teared up a few times. It’s a wonderful portrait of cross-species love and connection that will ring true with any dog-friend in the audience. The movie isn’t entirely without problems. I’ll admit some of the Japanese stereotypes made me a bit uncomfortable and I suppose the cultural appropriation question is worth being asked here. I’m pretty sure I come out on Anderson’s side on the issue, but it’s worth bringing up, I reckon. Also, while I am decidedly a dog person, I do also maintain friendly relations with a few felines as well and I suspect the true cat-lovers out there will find this movie rather irritating in its completely negative portrayal of the cat class. Still, those are minor issues and in a film this witty, charming, heartfelt and fun, it would be downright ungenerous to let those things derail your enjoyment of this delightful masterpiece. 4 stars.
tl;dr – stop-motion animation is the perfect medium for Anderson and this story of the relationship of dogs and humans to each other is hilarious and heartfelt in all the right ways. 4 stars.