Review: ‘Isle of Dogs,’ a film for dog-lovers

Jonathan McCaslin, Staff Writer

Okay, so we know Wes Anderson is both a brilliant writer and director. His original screenplay for “Moonrise Kingdom” was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 and his directing skills earned him a Best Director nomination in 2015 for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a film that took home four different Oscars that year.

Another aspect of Anderson’s many talents lies within the art of stop-motion cinema. In 2009 he wowed me with “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — a great movie for anyone who enjoys something a little more family friendly — and he continued to do so again with his most recent film “Isle of Dogs.” It was released in theatres in April, and made available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming services in July.

“Isle of Dogs” takes place in a dystopian near-future Japan. It’s revealed that man’s best friend has unintentionally turned on society: A dog-flu virus has spread through most of the canine population. The authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi signs a decree barring all dogs from the limits of Megasaki City and banishes them to Trash Island.

The first dog to be sent is Spots (voiced by Live Schreiber), the beloved pet of Kobayashi’s orphaned nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin).

Jump six months later and we see Atari stealing a plane. He’s determined to rescue Spots and bring him back home. After crashing on the island, he is rescued by five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and Chief (Bryan Cranston). The pack of dogs decide to help Atari find Spots, though Chief, a former stray, is reluctant to align himself with a human.

In the meantime, Kobayashi sends a rescue team to fetch Atari. After a brief skirmish, and with the help of a purebred named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Chief decides to fully cooperate with the team in their search for Spots. They seek the guidance of two sage dogs, Jupiter and Oracle, who warn them about a cannibal tribe of dogs that might be on the island.

Back in Megasaki City, Professor Watanabe finds a cure for the dog-flu but is poisoned by the Mayor. This causes American exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) to become suspicious. She enlists the help of assistant scientist Yoko Ono (no, not the one who ruined the Beatles), to whom she passes a vile of the cure.

You’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens next.

In short, “Isle of Dogs” brought an amazing story to the silver screen, and one worth a first or second viewing on your dorm-room TV. The stop-animation proves to be breathtaking (the dog’s fur, in particular, looks uncanny) and the journey shared between Atari and his companions leaves the audience satisfied with the outcome.

The film has done well for itself. It scored an 89 percent rating Rotten Tomatoes and rung in nearly $32 million at the box office, also giving Anderson the biggest opening weekend of his career.

I’d recommend “Isle of Dogs” to anyone who loves dogs, plot and animation.

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