Isle of dogs, a lot more than this movie.
In this latest foray into animation by the Fantastic Mr. Fox Director, a young boy crash-lands on a Japanese island, heaped with the nation’s deserted pups, in search of his best friend. Finding instead alpha canines Chief, Rex, King, Boss and Duke who, adorably, have to vote on every group decision, the pack, voiced in English, struggle to communicate with the Nagasaki local.
The film is stuffed with just about any and every household name who ever wanted to be in a Wes Anderson film, among them Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe and Yoko Ono, who are joined by Anderson stalwarts Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton… you get the idea. Even among it’s central cast very few are on screen long enough to register, with some of the top billed stars too granted fleeting appearances. This would not be an issue, but for the idiosyncratic potential wasted when the focus on more than one of the alpha pack is sacrificed for the panoply of figures and a grandiose narrative that later emerges.
If the basic premise sounds adorable, it is, as it would have been enough to endear even ardent Anderson detractors. A simplistic and likeable conceit, propelled forward by the film’s greatest asset, the consummately rendered, quirkily distinct animation evidenced throughout, Anderson quite literally dumps the film’s central appeal in favour of a not unfamiliar political caper better handled by humorists who dedicated a whole film to their like tableaus.
Characters, among them Johansson’s Nutmeg, rock up on the seldom occasion when there’s the smallest break in the action, one of several narrative strands that leave a great deal wanting or, as in the case of the portended dogs that occupy the furthest end of the island, largely unfulfilled. Yes Anderson has consistently pursued various threads in many of his projects, though does so to much greater effect when he confines his efforts to a more finite set of figures or a more discernibly tethered set of circumstances ala The Grand Budapest Hotel, or Moonrise Kingdom.
The director’s latest fares best when pursuing the whimsically guileless foibles that best characterise Anderson’s output and here a few blink and you’ll miss it moments of unadulterated charm. Isle of Dogs, if a treat at times for dog lovers (and certainly so when surrounded by hundreds of furry friends as this author was so luckily situated at Moonlight Cinema’s latest screening) leaves a lot to be desired.
Isle of Dogs is in cinemas from Thursday April 12