[Screen It]

"ISLE OF DOGS"
(2018) (voices of Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Dramedy: A number of dogs, banished to a trash island by an anti-dog mayor, help a boy try to find his pooch who was the first sent to that remote location, all due to most canines coming down with dog flu and snout fever.
PLOT:
In Japan in the near future, most dogs have come down with dog flu and snout fever. Coming from a long dynasty of loving cats and hating dogs, Megasaki City Mayor Kobayashi (voice of KUNICHI NOMURA) orders that all dogs be banished to the remote Trash Island in order to keep humans safe.

That's despite Professor Watanabe (voice of AKIRA ITO), who's planning on running against Kobayashi in the next mayoral election, stating he's close to finding a cure. And the first dog sent off is Spots (voice of LIEV SCHREIBER), the protector dog for 12-year-old orphan Atari (voice of KOYU RANKIN) who just so happens to be Kobayashi's nephew.

Six months later, Atari gets a hold of a small plane and heads for Trash Island to look for Spots but ends up crash-landing and is saved by a small pack of domesticated dogs -- Rex (voice of EDWARD NORTON), King (voice of BOB BALABAN), Boss (voice of BILL MURRAY) and Duke (voice of JEFF GOLDBLUM) -- and one stray in the form of Chief (voice of BRYAN CRANSTON) who wants nothing to do with humans.

Instead, he's interested in the likes of former show dog Nutmeg (voice of SCARLETT JOHANSSON), but decides to help the canine quartet assist the boy in finding Spots. After realizing skeletal remains are not of that dog and that he may be alive elsewhere, they seek out the help and visions of Oracle (voice of TILDA SWINTON) and her assistant, Jupiter (voice of F. MURRAY ABRAHAM).

At the same time, American foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (voice of GRETA GERWIG) is leading protests against the Mayor's anti-dog decree but must be cautious since Kobayashi's "hatchet man," Major-Domo (voice of AKIRA TAKAYAMA), is an intense, Lurch-like fellow who does the mayor's bidding.

As the dogs help the boy look for his former pooch, little do they realize what plans the mayor has to deal with the "dog problem" once and for all.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Okay, I'll just come out and admit it - I'm much more of a cat person than a dog person. Had my family owned a canine rather than a feline when I was born I might have a different opinion now. Of course, maybe it's just a genetic thing based on the hard-wiring of my brain in that I'm predisposed to like kitties more than puppies.

In any event, I fully understand the "man's best friend" mantra when it comes to dogs. Unlike cats who mostly do things their own way, the vast majority of dogs are more than happy to do whatever it is their human owners ask of them, be that fetching things, going for walks, sniffing out drugs or bombs and dealing with bad guys.

Thus, it's hard to imagine a scenario where everyone would allow their dogs to be taken away from them and shipped off to - oh, I don't know - a remote island used for trash purposes. But that's the very gist of the appropriately titled "Isle of Dogs," the latest quirky, highly imaginative and downright entertaining offering from writer/director Wes Anderson.

He's a filmmaker known for mostly operating in the live action film realm with the likes of "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and many others, but has previously dabbled in the world of stop-motion animation with 2009's intricately detailed "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Like that film and others that fall into this sub-genre of animation, it's a labor of love, what with each characters' movements, expressions and so on painstakingly moved centimeter by centimeter and shot one frame at a time to create the illusion of movement and flesh and blood characters.

And like all of Anderson's films, it has most if not all of the filmmaker's trademark elements - a large cast of famous performers playing the characters (this time in vocal mode only), observational and explanatory voice-over narration, various asides and flashbacks, and an overall aura that makes you immediately recognize you're watching one of his movies.

The plot is fairly simple as the backbone and basic structure through the film's 100 or so minute runtime, but plenty of intricate and finely tuned details are found throughout. In the near future in a Japanese city, canines have come down with dog flu and snout fever, and thus the mayor (Kunichi Nomura) has banished all of them to the remote Trash Island, starting with one pooch named Spots (Liev Schreiber).

Six months later, his 12-year-old owner (Koyu Rankin) flies a plane there on a rescue mission, only to crash land and then be saved by a number of dogs (the terrific array of Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) who mostly agree to help the kid, with one outlier (Bryan Cranston) only doing so reluctantly. At the same time, a professor (Akira Ito) thinks he's found a cure, but it then becomes apparent the mayor, a cat person, isn't keen on letting anyone know about that.

As a result, an American foreign exchange student (Greta Gerwig) starts a protest to change the law, all while the dogs continue on their quest and encounter an interesting array of other canines along the way including one oracle, named, well, Oracle (Tilda Swinton) whose prognosticating comes from an interesting and funny place.

All of which can probably also accurately describe the filmmaker's brain as this is yet another superlative example of highly imaginative and entertaining storytelling. Simply put, if you like the quirky humor and well-written scripts found in abundant display in films by director Wes Anderson you're probably going to love this. I did, even as a cat person, and thus "Isle of Dogs" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 11, 2018 / Posted April 13, 2018


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