It's likely that Wes Anderson intended for his latest film to equally embrace the canine kingdom and Japanese culture. But the stop-motion pooches of Isle of Dogs have a depth and presence not always granted their surrounding milieu.
Set in the retro-futurescape of Megasaki City, Anderson's second animated feature (following 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox) revolves around 12-year-old Atari's quest to rescue his pet, Spots, from quarantine atop a floating dumpsite. But our young hero soon cedes agency to the mutt squad (voiced by ur-American dream team Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Ed Norton and Jeff Goldblum) vouchsafing his quest, and a rabble-rousing U.S. exchange student (Greta Gerwig) crushing from afar.
Freely incorporating elements of Japanese iconography into his own visual design—imagine Mechagodzilla as a Victorian puzzle box for the incurably twee—Anderson's delight in his own cleverness now carries along a whiff of casual imperialism. This is, after all, the sort of talking-dog comedy that casts Yoko Ono as Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono.
Any formalist nods to the cinema of Kurosawa and Ozu blend with a rollicking sensibility bred from The Aristocats or, as Cranston's Chief canoodles with Scarlett Johansson's Nutmeg, Lady & The Tramp. While Anderson's admirers may divine some underlying environmentalist resonance from a tale largely set on Trash Island, few directors have ever been as eager to poke through the abandoned detritus of societal folly.
Critic's rating: 3/4 stars
Isle of Dogs is rated PG-13 and now playing at Fox Tower and Hollywood.