Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Movie review: Wes Anderson brings his jewel-box aesthetic to Japan with 'Isle of Dogs'

By: Ann Hornaday The Washington Post
April 12, 2018 Updated: April 12, 2018 at 8:51 am
0
Caption +
(L-r): Edward Norton as "Rex," Jeff Goldblum as "Duke," Bill Murray as "Boss," Bob Balaban as "King" and Bryan Cranston as "Chief" in "Isle of Dogs." MUST CREDIT: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Viewers may be forgiven for being confused by Wes Anderson's movies. Constructed with dollhouse fastidiousness, their hyper-symmetrical, squared-off tableaus dressed with gorgeous textures and color palettes - and their clipped dialogue delivered with deadpan sincerity - depict a universe with only glancing resemblance to the real world.

A tonal mash-up of ironic distance and emotional manipulation, they invite the audience to laugh knowingly one minute and to coo with empathy the next. They're moviedom's fussiest, most arcane inside joke.

All of these gifts, contradictions and irritations abound in "Isle of Dogs," Anderson's ninth movie and his second stop-animation feature. Like his first one, "Fantastic Mr. Fox," this is a celebration and a sendup of cartoon anthropomorphism.

Taking his cues from Akira Kurosawa, Rankin/Bass holiday specials, "The Little Prince," "Lady and the Tramp" and Japanese kaiju movies, Anderson has adapted his usual jewel-box aesthetic into bento-box proportions. "Isle of Dogs" bursts with color (including extravagant swaths of crimson) and precious detail, and it's shot through with the filmmaker's reliably understated humor.

The degree to which any of this will appeal to filmgoers beyond Anderson's core constituency is debatable. True to its title, "Isle of Dogs" is a circuitous collection of false starts, flashbacks and doglegs that are far less captivating than the formal beauty on display.

Put most briefly: The story takes place 20 years into the future, when the Stalinesque, cat-loving mayor of a Japanese city has banished dogs to a place called Trash Island, having spread the vicious lie that they carry an incurable disease. When his 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) travels to the island to rescue his faithful guard dog, Spots, he falls in with a plucky band of former pets and their leader, a street-toughened stray named Chief.

Voiced by Bryan Cranston, Chief is the Bogartlike antihero of "Isle of Dogs," which features the voices of such frequent Anderson collaborators as Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban and Frances McDormand. Although it can be fun to try to match the voice with the character - Norton, Murray, Balaban and Jeff Goldblum are particularly amusing as Chief's ragtag posse - the chief attractions here are the visuals, from the gently blowing alpaca wool of the dogs' fur and the vagrant beauty of the detritus they live in to the waxy translucence of Atari's skin and the retro-futuristic look of the fictional metropolis he calls home.

But the story, for all its busyness, is negligible. The script feels less like an organic whole than an effort to keep building up a scrawny central premise until it felt like a movie. "Isle of Dogs" possesses moments of memorable beauty, but even at its most observant and obsessively painstaking, it's still little more than a shaggy-dog story.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

or
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 
This is your last FREE article for the month
This is your last FREE article for the month

Subscribe now and enjoy Unlimited Digital Access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?

 
You have reached your article limit for the month
You have reached your article limit for the month

We hope that you've enjoyed your complimentary access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 

Exclusive Subscriber Content

You read The Gazette because you care about your community and the local stories you can't find anywhere else.

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber? Get Access | Already a digital subscriber? Log In
 
articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.