In a first ever for us, we followed up our month of “themed” movies by seeing the new Wes Anderson flick Isle of Dogs. (Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson did not receive this courtesy, alas, with Phantom Thread being received with much disinterest from us all. Quoth the flower: “Wait, he’s a clothes designer with a girlfriend? Is that the twist? That he’s not gay?”) But we had liked all five of his older films quite a lot (Rushmore being The Flower’s favorite and The Royal Tenenbaums being The Boy’s favorite, with me undecided) and we all think that his last two movies (Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel) were actually better than all his previous work.
And now we have a new favorite. Or at least, that was each of our impressions on leaving the theater. Over time, after the thrill of the moment has passed, it might not hold up, but this is definitely in the same class as the last two films. It’s as if Anderson is actually getting better with each film rather than worse, which seems to be the trajectory for filmmakers of late.)
Now, don’t get me wrong: This is an extremely WA film, and if you don’t like WA, this ain’t gonna change your mind. But we loved it.
The plot, summed up neatly in the trailer, is as follows: In a manga-esque future Japan, there’s a dog flu sweeping the city of Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi orders all dogs quarantined on an island made of floating, the eponymous Isle of Dogs. The mayor’s ward, Atari, missing his dog “Spots”, ventures on to the island to try to save him. The dogs who find him on the island band together to help him locate “Spots”. Along the way, we discover the backstory of why the dog is so important to Atari (as if there needed to be a reason) and also learn more about the dogs who have been quarantined.
The human dialog is primarily in Japanese with no subtitles, though there is a translator (Frances McDormand), and one of the primary characters is Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student who develops a crush on the brave Atari, and (more importantly, since they barely meet) uncovers the secret shenanigans behind the conspiracy to get rid of all the dogs.
The cast is huge and top-notch, populated by many of the usual suspects: Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Roman Coppola, Anjelica Huston, and so on. Some other voices are provided by Scarlett Johansson, Yoko Ono (!), Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and F. Murray Abraham among others. The lead dog, Chief, is voiced wonderfully by Bryan Cranston.
The same sort of gentle, whimsical spirit pervades, as it has in all of Anderson’s recent movies, but this movie also seems to be among the warmest of his films. He seems to have vastly improved his mastery of stop-motion animation since Fantastic Mr. Fox, with all the jerky, “weightless” motion gone, and the composition and blocking more like a traditional movie, while not lessening the aesthetic appeal of the medium.
We all felt like we could turn right back around and watch it again, actually, and we may go ahead and see it in its second run.