THE FAMILY PET
Anderson’s latest is a timely parable about the power of alternately configured groups to come together.
Director Wes Anderson has the kind of cult following that makes for divisive discussions at your local hipster communal-table craft brewery — you either love him unconditionally or else his droll, highly stylised films infuriate you to the point of wanting to chop off your waiter’s top-knot with your steak knife. I like to think that I’m not a hipster but I’m decidedly a committed fan of Anderson’s work.
His second venture into stop-motion animation has plenty to commend, although it’s not without a few cultural missteps.
Following his acclaimed, endearing and painstaking stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s tale Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009, Anderson’s new film, Isle of Dogs, is conceived by the director in collaboration with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Japanese DJ and sometime actor Kunichi Nomura, who also contributes voice talents.
The story is set in the near future in the fictional Japanese megalopolis of Megasaki where, thanks to an outbreak of “snout fever” that threatens to break across the species barrier, Mayor Kobayashi (Nomura) has banished all dogs in the city to Trash Island.
This soon becomes known as the Isle of Dogs. On the island, packs of dogs, like the Bronx gangs of ’70s New York, roam and fight with other gangs in search of what food they can find in the garbage that is deposited by the city.
When “the little pilot” Atari (Koyu Rankin), the adopted son of the mayor, crashes his plane on the island in search of his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), he’s joined in his search by a raggedy group that “has no leaders” but is made up of former stray and scrapper Chief (Bryan Cranston), master-loving Rex (Edward Norton), one-time dog food advert star King (Bob Balaban), over-anxious Boss (Bill Murray) and gossip-loving Duke (Jeff Goldblum).
Featuring additional vocal contributions from Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, F Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono and smoothly velvet narration by Courtney B Vance, the film is more than just a cool, droll, exquisitely animated and funny adventure story.
It’s also a timely parable about deportation, acceptance and, in typical Anderson fashion, the power of adopted and alternatively configured family groups to come together to fight for a common cause.
The settings provide a perfect canvas for Anderson to exercise his love for small, clever, referential details, and the stop-motion animation is uniformly and superbly executed.
The bringing to life of the old comic-book trope of a cloud of flying limbs to indicate a fracas is inspired and there are many other moments of pure genius in the animation that will leave your top-knotted companions shaking their heads in admiration.
If there’s one cultural misstep, it’s in Anderson’s decision to allow the uprising against Mayor Kobayashi’s anti-dogism to be spurred by Tracy Walker (Gerwig), an American exchange student.
But, in the overall scheme of things, this is forgivable in a film that ultimately works as both a piece of sheer magical delight and an intelligent, referential and plugged-in piece of carefully observed social critique that will leave you howling for more. LS