'Isle of Dogs' Wes Anderson's New Film Has Its Delightful Designer Day

By Paris, Barry | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), April 6, 2018 | Go to article overview

'Isle of Dogs' Wes Anderson's New Film Has Its Delightful Designer Day


Paris, Barry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Garbage has never looked better than on Trash Island, aka "Isle of Dogs," a canine Alcatraz to which all doggies - good, bad and animated - are banished in the not-so-distant future Japan.

Director Wes Anderson, for the first time since "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" nine years ago, employs stop-motion animation for the nonstop action of a magical cartoon odyssey: a boy's search for his lost dog.

Our hero is a 12-year-old orphan (what else?) named Atari. His despotic Uncle Kobayashi, the mayor of Megasaki, is up for a re-election. Blaming dogs for a deadly flu epidemic, he sentences the whole species to an offshore dumping ground - a radioactive landfill, where the poor mongrels are left to fight over precious few toxic scraps.

Among them is Spots, loyal watchdog of the equally loyal Atari, who commandeers a vintage plane and crash-lands on the wretched island to find him, but - dog gone. He's a captive somewhere.

"Will you help the little pilot?" the pretty Nutmeg (Scarlett Johannsson) asks the alpha male Chief (Bryan Cranston).

"Why should I?" he says.

"Because he's a 12-year-old boy, and dogs love those," she replies.

All these canines - with and without credentials - have issues.

"I starred in 22 consecutive Doggy Chow commercials," whines King (Bob Balaban). "Look at me now, I couldn't land an audition."

"I was the lead mascot for an undefeated high school baseball team," Boss (Bill Murray) laments. "But I lost all my spirit, I'm depressing."

"I only ask for what I've always had," says Duke (Jeff Goldblum), "a balanced diet, regular grooming .."

"I used to sleep on a lamb's wool beanbag next to an electric space heater," moans Rex (Edward Norton) to Chief. "You don't understand. How could you, I mean you're a ...."

"Go ahead, say it!" Chief interrupts. "I'm a stray."

But they're united in abandonment and will forsake all doggy differences to band together and take on the corrupt human regime in Megasaki.

Yeah, well - no Oscar for screenplay is likely for the story, which pales by comparison with the director's delicious "Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014) and "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012) scripts. But no Wes Anderson film lacks for originality, and this "Isle" confirms his stature as "America's most artisanal auteur," on the strength of the stunning whimsical worlds he creates.

The Megasaki and Trash Island worlds are chock-full of quirky characters, biped and quadruped alike. The dogs are delightfully individualized, down to the movement of the hair on their bodies (made out of alpaca wool, FYI). The charm derives from the retro stop-action technique, with its painstaking (anti-CGI!) demands of a bygone era. …

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