Wes Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation displays much technical and natural perceptive aplomb in traveling to the Far East even if narratively and thematically it may be rather off-putting. It is not conducive to the feline contingent.
Isle of Dogs (sounds like “I love dogs” and a caption informs that their words have been translated into English) has a symmetric, exact quality that fits quite well into his idiosyncratic realm. One that is meticulous (for example, very aesthetically pleasing lighting), mellifluous in an analogue approach with much vivid commitment from scribe colleagues Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura (one of its many voice-actors, at least a few being returnees from previous Anderson full-length features).
The form allows for anthropomorphic dimension from the concept that still may tickle the fancy of canine owners/handlers with neatly illustrated calligraphic lecturing along with vertical Japanese boarded lettering which limits the aspect ratio at the outset.
Fictitious metropolis Megasaki has a canine flu epidemic from their excessively large numbers leading to an autocratic mayor (Nomura) evicting them to what is basically a refuse assemblage. Where there are scraps or, perhaps from hearsay, themselves for nourishment.
A quintet of such straggly pooches have a troubled look but an impassive, indefatigable attitude, providing themselves with the Alpha moniker. Once stray, and so-called head (who alerts “I bite”) is Chief (Bryan Cranston), alongside Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban).
A boy pilot and mayor’s charge (Koyu Rankin) crashes in their new waste locale while trying to find his pet Spots and they assist on this daunting quest. Unfolding in picaresque fashion includes interloping automaton mongrels dispatched from the homeland.
Into this specific domain (with plenty of sneezing) is a primped former show dog (Scarlett Johansson), an American protestor (Greta Gerwig) looking to uncover wrongdoing, an upstaging pug seer (Tilda Swinton) known for elucidating televised weather reports; and also, an indigenous storied cannibalistic dog (Harvey Keitel).
Hardly lush and pastoral like his delightful Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson in another of his distinctive wonders with recent Oscar-winning Frances McDormand as a translator (Japanese is often heard even if not that loquacious) and Courtney B. Vance narrating provides the kind of complexion which probably requires multiple viewings to fully absorb and really appreciate.
Even though children probably aren’t Isle of Dogs chief association Rankin/Bass animations and print artist Hokusai are part of the fond nods, which would also include iconic auteurs Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki; those likely closer in age to the Houston-native maker of The Grand Budapest Hotel will be more inclined to go with this alternative hereafter. And, canny French composer Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water) contributes a Rising Sun-infused score wonderfully accompanying the action with woodwinds and drums.