THE FAM­ILY PET

An­der­son’s lat­est is a timely para­ble about the power of al­ter­nately con­fig­ured groups to come to­gether.

Sunday Times - - Review - By Tymon Smith

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

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