A literal shaggy dog story told in a quintessentially Wes Anderson way, “Isle Of Dogs” is just as whimsical but maybe a little darker than you might be expecting. Younger children might find some of it frightening and upsetting but older kids are likely to lap up its stunning visuals and exquisite animation.
In a dystopian future Japan, disease and overpopulation have led to the implementation of a decree banishing all dogs to the nearby trash island. But the Mayor’s ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin) is determined to defy his authoritarian guardian’s will and sets off to the island to rescue his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber).
Densely and beautifully animated, Anderson’s canine fairy tale mixes Japanese fables with arch social commentary and a surprisingly biting political satire with his usual flair for attention to detail and penchant for filling the frame with eye-pleasing symmetry and colour palettes. Amidst the whimsy and wonderful vocal performances from the starry and international cast, there are surprising sidesteps into dark territory, especially for such a seemingly kid-friendly film, with death, murder and suicide all featuring in the story of both the canine and human cast.
As you’d expect, it’s a film which requires attention, especially as much of the human dialogue is in Japanese with either subtitles or visuals to carry the meaning and narrative forward but it rewards the focus with a substantial thematic payload and an abundance of charm and intricate animation that will have you marvelling at the skill and patience required to bring this movie to the screen.
While it tends towards many familiar tropes in terms of its portrayal of Japanese culture, it does so respectfully, without mocking or seeking to denigrate and charges of ‘cultural appropriation’ have been wildly exaggerated and seem mean-spirited or mistaken. There’s nothing in “Isle Of Dogs” that should trigger offence unless you’re really trying to be offended.
The spectacular voice cast brings every single character to vivid life and there are times when you’ll wish you could go off and explore each one of their stories. “Isle Of Dogs” is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart; a tremendously entertaining, thought-provoking and impressive demonstration of filmmaking and animation craftsmanship and deserves its [ca]nine out of ten.