The ninth feature film from the maverick American film director Wes Anderson, as is typical of his unique and distinct style, looks to the past in another magnificently designed fable of disenchanted and dysfunctional families, but also to the future in what could be regarded as his first work approaching science fiction, warning of the power of deliberate disinformation and the consequences of irresponsible attitudes to the environment which have led to the creation of the Isle of Dogs.
It is the near future and in response to the canine flu epidemic sweeping Megasaki City and fears that it may cross the species barrier to humans, despite the outcry of some citizens concerned that it is a heavy-handed overreaction Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has decreed that all dogs shall be rounded up and exiled to Trash Island.
To demonstrate his belief that his actions are correct, the first dog to be shipped out is Spots (Liev Schreiber), the guard dog assigned to Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), the young nephew of the mayor; orphaned three years previously, Atari is now is now in the care of the uncompromising mayor as his ward.
Even as his political rival Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) works to develop a snout fever serum which can be ready within months Mayor Kobayashi continues with his unilateral plan, not realising that the friendship between Atari and Spots has broken the first rule of guard dog and guarded and that his ward is determined to rescue his best friend.
Stealing an antique plane, Atari crash-lands on Trash Island where he falls in the company of a pack of infected dogs, Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and street dog Chief (Bryan Cranston) to whom he is able to convey his intention to find and recover his lost dog, and they conduct him across the wasteland in hope of finding Spots.
The absurdist situations of Anderson an acquired taste, he was nominated for the Academy Award for best screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and in Isle of Dogs he returns not only to many of the themes of those films but the collaborators with whom he has worked before, though like his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox they are present only in voice.
A meticulous production with every aspect and detail of the stop-motion animated characters and the exquisite and diverse backgrounds loving crafted, it would be nothing without the performances of Anderson’s established ensemble of players which also includes Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton or his warm and quirky script, as first the dogs move from pack to family then come to accept Atari in their midst with only Chief resistant to the presence of a twelve-year-old boy.
Anderson’s most elaborate film, every emotion and mood articulated by the expressive puppets, human and canine, it is a very human exploration of the mistreatment of the environment and the burden of responsibility to those less fortunate who are too often deemed expendable, particularly when they have no voice or are drowned out by the officially sanctioned viewpoints.
Mayor Kobayashi presenting himself to his public under a “Big Brother” style banner, Trash Island is a post-apocalyptic dumping ground of the unwanted and inconvenient, the policy of segregation driven by cat-lover Kobayashi’s own prejudices and manipulation of the media, the scientific evidence presented to him ignored and overruled in a manner all too familiar.
An affirmation of evidence over dogma and the power of the angry voice of unintimidated youth over the establishment led by Greta Gerwig’s exchange student Tracy Walker, threatened with deportation when the student movement she leads becomes troublesome to Kobayashi’s authority, Isle of Dogs delivers its timely message with charm and humour wrapped up in package of fur and wagging tails as well as sharp teeth.
Isle of Dogs is on general release from Friday 30th March