'Isle of Dogs' is one of the year’s most dazzling feats of animation

Other | Tuesday 3rd April 2018 | David

The painstaking prettiness of Isle of Dogs is not only the best argument for checking out Wes Anderson’s first feature-length foray into animation since 2009’s Fantastic Mr Fox; it might even be sufficient cause for repeated viewings. The director of such visually eccentric comedies as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom packs so much detail into every frame of this lovingly crafted stop-motion adventure flick that a second sit-through may well be necessary to absorb all the painterly pleasures that the film has to offer.

Not that Isle of Dogs doesn’t have more going for it than its charming appearance. A heart-warming, revolutionary spirit runs through this socially conscious sci-fi, set in a dystopian, near-future Japan where the country’s entire canine population has been exiled to Trash Island in the wake of a dog flu virus outbreak. After a young orphan named Atari (Koyu Rankin) journeys to the island in the hope of finding his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), five canines voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban make it their mission to reunite the pair.


Throughout a noble odyssey that sees the film’s ragtag team cross paths with a corrupt mayor, a pack of robot dogs and an assortment of colourful characters voiced by famous names (Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig and Frances McDormand, to name a few), Isle of Dogs suggests parallels with some of the darkest chapters in recent human history, from the atrocities of the Third Reich to the AIDS epidemic to the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War – not to mention the current tensions around issues of immigration. Man’s inhumanity to man (or, in this case, dog) is faced down by Anderson’s typical deadpan humour, revealing the endearingly flawed humanity in his canine characters as they defy the strict, dehumanising order imposed on them by a tyrannical government.

Ironically, Anderson’s fussy style also threatens at times to drain this humanity from the film. It’s been a long-held claim among the director’s detractors that Anderson’s quirky, neatly ordered visuals mask an emotionally hollow centre, and Isle of Dogs – though certainly better than this uncharitable description – is the closest he’s come this decade to proving these naysayers right. Too often the film chooses cutesiness over depth of insight, especially in its slightly condescending, stereotypical treatment of Japanese culture that’s only partly redeemed by Anderson’s unmistakable affection for classic Japanese cinema.

But again, for all its flaws and limitations, Isle of Dogs will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the year’s most dazzling feats of animation. Though it’s sometimes an easier film to admire for its craftsmanship than to fully embrace on an emotional level, there’s enough wit, artistry and compassion crammed into these 101 minutes to make this one of the most entertaining flicks you could currently catch in a cinema.

Isle of Dogs is in UK cinemas now!