I will say that maybe this wasn’t the best movie for my frame of mind right now. While I’m generally a fan of Wes Anderson (even his weakest effort, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has its moments), I’m still in recovery after the death of my own pup. A movie about a bunch of dogs rejected by their owners and suffering was going to hit me pretty hard. While I wouldn’t call it upper level Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore), it was still fun and entertaining and even in animation still follows the usual Anderson tropes (omniscient narrator, fancy fonts, brilliant art direction, dark humor).
In the near future, the city of Megasaki is under the rule of the mildly tyrannical Mayor Kobayashi, who has outlawed all dogs to the trash island called, well, Trash Island. The mayor’s ward, his nephew Atari, has run away to Trash Island in search of his banished dog, Spots. There he runs into a group of mutts (voiced by Anderson mainstays Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban) somewhat lead by stray mongrel Chief (and voiced amazingly well by Bryan Cranston) who help Atari on his quest. It’s a simple odyssey, trying to get from point A to point B without the bad guys getting to them first, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting or humorous (it’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but does have quite a few chuckle-worthy moments). Tracy (voiced by Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig), an exchange student in Megasaki helps to mobilize a resistance back home, based on her crush from afar on Atari.
Anderson has his detractors, and I’m sure they will be able to find fault with this, but it’s definitely lighter on his usual trademark quirk. Co-written by Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Kunichi Nomura (who also voices Kobayashi), Isle of Dogs is sweet without being too saccharine and wears its canine adoration on its sleeve (say that title really fast if you’re in doubt). The stop-motion animation (which he used before on the Fantastic Mr. Fox) is a good fit for Anderson, who specializes in cartoonish characters anyway. The vocal work is strong, from Cranston, Gerwig, and Norton especially, but also smaller parts by Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.
Though it’s darker than most movies aimed at kids, it still manages to serve a wide audience without being cloying or forced. It’s still light enough to be enjoyable for the youth, but not so juvenile to put off adults.
My Grade – a solid B