(director/writer: Wes Anderson; screenwriters: story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura; cinematographer: Tristan Oliver; editors: Andrew Weisblum/Ralph Foster/Edward Bursch; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Voices: Bryan Cranston (Chief), Koyu Rankin (Atari), Edward Norton (Rex), Bob Balaban (King), Jeff Goldblum (Duke), Bill Murray (Boss), Kunichi Nomura (Mayor Kobayachi), Liev Schreiber (Spots), Scarlett Johansson (Nutmeg), Harvey Keitel (Gondo), Yoko Ono (Assistant Scientist), Greta Gerwig (Tracy Walker), Tilda Swinton (Oracle), F. Murray Abraham (Jupiter), Frances McDormand (Interpreter Nelson), Akira Takayama (Major-Domo), Akira Ito (Prof. Watanabe), Ken Watanabe (Head Surgeon), Fisher Stevens (Scrap), Mari Natsuki (Auntie), Nijiro Murakami (Editor Hiroshi), Courtney B. Vance (The Narrator); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Wes Anderson/Scott Rudin/Jeremy Steven RalesDawson; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2018-USA/Germany-in English & Japanese-with English subtitles)

The film works until it doesn’t.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The always inventive Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”/”The Grand Budapest Hotel”) creates this stop-motion animated children’s tale filled with adult asides, great ideas and excellent craftsmanship. This is the second venture of Anderson in stop-motion, with the first being Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). It’s from a story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura and is narrated by Courtney B. Vance.

The unconventional film is inspired stylistically by the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa. It takes place in a futuristic and fictitious Japan. After an outbreak of dog flu overwhelms the teeming city of Megasaki, Japan, the crooked Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) orders all dogs to be sent to a remote garbage dump called Trash Island. On the island, a 12-year-old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), the mayor’s adopted nephew, goes alone in a stolen miniature Junior-Turbo Prop to find his lost guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) and after crashing is rescued by five dogs–a former mascot for a boys’ baseball team, Boss (Bill Murray), the leader of the group, Rex (Edward Norton), the gossip maven, Duke (Jeff Goldblum), the dog rep for a brand of dog food, King (Bob Balaban), and the stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston)–who all then help the kid find his beloved pet. The film works until it doesn’t. The one-note plot gets somewhat annoying the longer it goes on in the same way and by adding on so many characters it becomes harder to follow. But the visuals are out of this world beautiful and the set designs are amazingly inventive. Isle of Dogs if spoken sounds like “I love dogs.” It’s a special film for dog lovers and for those who like their cartoons to at least try for some profundity and have something politically important (or topically relevant) to say.

This is not merely a doggie film that is content to have the canines wag their tails, but is a superior one that overcomes its too cutesy flaws with its powerhouse aesthetics.