Whether you love or hate him, there is no denying that Wes Anderson is one of the most unusual, and artistic directors working on the Indie scene. From 1996’s ‘Bottle Rocket’ to 2014’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, Anderson has brought a quirky sense of charm to each and every one of his films. One could argue that he relies mainly on style over substance. ‘Isle of Dogs’ is definitely an admiration of animation (and possibly more detailed and less stoic than his first animated feature, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’), yet story-wise, it takes some time to immerse yourself in such beauty.
‘Isle of Dogs’ takes place sometime in the near future. As our narrator (Voice of Courtney B. Vance) explains that an epidemic of dog flu has spread over the city of Megasaki, Japan; causing the ruthless Mayor Kobayashi (Voice of Kunichi Nomura) to exile all dogs, including an Oceanic speckle-eared sports hound named Spots (Voice of Liev Schreiber), to a secluded isle known as Trash Island. However, Spots’ owner, a 12-year-old boy (and nephew of the Mayor) named Atari Kobayashi (Voice of Koyu Rankin) sets off to rescue him.
Also inhabiting the island are five other dogs of different breeds; Chief (Voice of Bryan Cranston), a gruff stray who is the leader of the pack and has a mistrust of humans, Rex (Voice of Edward Norton), a smart golden retriever who used to belong to a school teacher, King (Voice of Bob Balaban), an Irish Setter who used to star in dog food commercials, Boss (Voice of Bill Murray), the former mascot of an “undefeated” Baseball team known as the Dragons, and Duke (Voice of Jeff Goldblum), a husky who always tells the other dogs in his pack a rumor he heard from others on the island. They are key in Atari’s journey to find Spots.
Other cast members include: Akira Takayama as the Mayor’s tall, thin, yet spiteful Major Domo, Greta Gerwig (straight off her Oscar nomination for writing and directing ‘Lady Bird’) as high school senior/protester Tracy Walker, Frances McDormand as Interpreter Nelson – who is mainly there to translate news reports and conversations for the audience (there are barely any subtitles to read), Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg – a show dog who Chief crosses paths with, F. Murray Abraham as Jupiter – a large dog full of wisdom and advice, and Tilda Swinton as Oracle – a pug who Jupiter says gets visions to relay back to the island.
Like most of Anderson’s prior works (especially ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’), ‘Isle of Dogs’ is filled with a huge cast; to name each and every cast member would take up most of the review (I wanted to stick with the major players). Another thing about Anderson is that he loves his cast as much as he loves his visual style. While most members tend to support the plot, only a few are there for effect (Interpreter Nelson and Oracle, namely; though I do admit that I enjoyed the jokes involving Swinton’s cute pug character).
What separates Anderson from other directors is how his films tend to leave you with a sense of wanting more. In other words, even if his films do not land with you the first time, they are guaranteed to leave an impact to where a second viewing is necessary. Like amusement park rides, they get better the second time around. I believe that ‘Isle of Dogs’ is worth more than one view. Whether I plan on seeing it again in the theater, or have to wait for it to hit the shelves as either a Blu-Ray or DVD. There is something remarkable about the work of Wes Anderson.