fri 19/10/2018

Isle of Dogs review - canine caper with a message | reviews, news & interviews

Isle of Dogs review - canine caper with a message

Isle of Dogs review - canine caper with a message

Wes Anderson's latest is as inventive as ever

Stray dog Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) is part of a pack of scavenging canines

This isn't a feature about London's former docklands (although much of it was made in a studio nearby), but rather Wes Anderson's second foray into stop-motion animation (after 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox) and a quiet hymn to two of his heroes, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyasaki. Fittingly, it is set in Japan.

It's 20 years into the future; Megasaki is a huge metropolis ruled by a totalitarian mayor (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), who so hates dogs that he manufactures panic about “dog flu” and “snout fever” and then banishes canines to Trash Island, a rat-infested post-apocalyptic rubbish heap connected to the mainland only by a rusty midair convenor-belt contraption for the rubbish skips (pictured below). When he sends Spots (Liev Schreiber), his 12-year-old nephew Atari's beloved dog, to the island, Atari (Koyu Rankin) sets out on a hazardous journey to find Spots and bring him home.Isle of Dogs

There he meets Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), a pack of once-alpha dogs who try to help him. They are former house pets – “I used to sleep on a lamb's wool beanbag next to an electric space heater” – except for Chief, a stray impounded after biting the proffered hand of a child, who now survive on maggoty scraps of food from rubbish heaps and get into punch-ups with other hungry packs. These brawls, amusingly, throw up cartoonish billows of smoke and detritus.

Also unknowingly helping Atari in his quest is American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig), the campaigning editor of her university newspaper, who thinks the doggie ban hides something more sinister in the mayor's office (apart from his feline-loving sensibilities), as Mayor Kobayashi deploys soldiers and robot dogs (killers all) to find his nephew.

Anderson brings out several favourite items from his bag of tricks – colour saturation, a narrator, a wonderfully droll script and an altered timeframe – and mostly it's engaging, funny and inventive and (for dog lovers, at least) beyond cute. The visual gags come thick and fast, too.

It does, however, feel too long at 101 minutes and Isle of Dogs has, in some quarters, been charged with cultural appropriation; having no subtitles for the Japanese characters' words, while the dog characters all speak in English, and the fact that the American student is the one who rescues the day may appear to support that charge.

But the quietly played out political message is sound; a section of society demonised by politicians, with scientists corralled into debasing their work and then silenced, and a few heroic individuals acting selflessly to win the day. Despite the fact that the film was conceived several years ago, we see this now not only in the context of democracy being increasingly fragile but also, by huge coincidence, when student activism has come alive again in the US.

It's a lovely, funny and clever film, and that rare thing – one that you want to see again immediately after the credits have rolled.

Anderson brings out several favourite items from his bag of tricks

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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