Good Boy, by Bob Connally

1 Apr

I remember my excitement when I found out how much my little nephew loved 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not only because it’s such a wonderfully fun and delightful movie but because it meant that I could say that my nephew and I were both Wes Anderson fans. Even if he was far too young to see- let alone understand- any of the director’s previous five films. I just assumed he would come to see and love those in due time.

It has been nine years since Anderson’s first stop motion animated film and with two more live action movies under his belt in that time- Moonrise Kingdom and my favorite film of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel– he returns to a format that he is uniquely suited for amongst today’s auteur filmmakers. No one is expecting or needing Paul Thomas Anderson or Christopher Nolan to delve into stop motion. (Though I wouldn’t say no to one from the Coen Brothers now that I think about it.)

Twenty years in the future, the Japanese city of Megasaki is gripped by an epidemic of dog flu. Dog hating Mayor Kobayashi has convinced a majority of Megasaki’s citizens that dogs must be banished to nearby Trash Island. But a 12-year old boy named Atari is not going to accept the mayor’s decree. He steals an airplane to rescue his dog Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber). Upon hearing his story, a pack of dogs agree (by a vote of 4 to 1) to help the little pilot find Spots. Meanwhile, back in Megasaki, a team of scientists work on a cure for dog flu while the mayor tries to suppress it.

From its first frame, Isle of Dogs put a huge smile on my face and it stayed there through almost every scene. Anderson’s trademark attention to the smallest details is on full display here and as always for those who love his style, it’s so much of what makes his movies special. Like really all of his movies, Isle of Dogs is set in its own little world and unsurprisingly, it’s one with a visual aesthetic straight out of the 1960s and ‘70s. The style of the dialogue and the little captions that are peppered throughout the movie have that specific dry wittiness that has been evident in Anderson’s work going all the way back to his first movie, Bottle Rocket.

The voice cast- most of whom have worked with Anderson before- understand the tone the director is aiming for here and their line deliveries are pitch perfect. There’s a very specific joy that comes from hearing a handmade dog with Jeff Goldblum’s voice say, “I love gossip.” The lead dogs in the movie are Rex (Edward Norton) and Chief (Bryan Cranston, a newcomer to Anderson). Rex is comfortable as the strong but kindly leader of the small pack of dogs with an affinity for human masters. Like Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Goldblum), Rex remembers and misses his human family and home. Chief however is a bitter stray who wants no part of helping Atari the way the others do. Cranston’s voice work gives Chief real dimension and contributes to making him the most interesting character in the film, dog or human.

With an original screenplay by Anderson himself, Isle of Dogs is a little bit darker and slightly more intense than Fantastic Mr. Fox. The more violent moments would probably be a little bit too much for really young children but even with those and about four mild swear words, the PG-13 rating seems overboard. (I’m pretty sure that my nephew will love it.) Because it’s a Wes Anderson movie though, I wasn’t surprised that most of my opening night audience consisted of people in their twenties and thirties without kids.

Isle of Dogs delivers what we have come to hope for and expect from Wes Anderson over the past two decades. A very funny, beautifully staged and shot movie with an unforgettable soundtrack, made with an abundance of heart, and with just the right joy to melancholy ratio. The kids who love this have a lot to look forward to when they’re old enough for Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply