20 years into the future, in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, iron-fisted mayor Kobayshi (Kunichi Nomura) blames a mass flu outbreak on the city’s dogs. The solution to the problem is to exile the animals to Trash Island. The first dog to be subject to this is Spots (Liev Schreiber), the protector dog of Mayor Kobayshi’s regent 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin), with the rest of the resident’s canines eventually ending up on the island.
On the island we meet a pack of dogs voiced by Wes Anderson’s usual stalwarts. Edward Norton voices Rex, the leader of the pack; Bill Murray is Boss a former baseball team mascot, Bob Balaban supplies the voice for King a former dog food pitch hound back in the city and Jeff Goldblum plays Duke the gossip. Bryan Cranston join the Anderson troupe as Chief, a stray with a pension for fighting and biting.
The meat of the story involves the resourceful Atari crash landing on the island in search of his beloved Spot. Teaming up with the pack, Atari and the crew trek across the island meeting a series of interesting characters along their journey. Some of these individuals include Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), a former show dog that takes a shining to the rough-edged Chief; seer dogs Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton), the latter who interprets the news on television for their guidance. They also encounter a group of students in the city, lead by American exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), who oppose the mayor’s plan and want their dogs back.
Using stop-motion animation, Wes Anderson creates a rich and wonderful world. His fastidious attention to detail is fully on display when showcasing his love for Japanese culture. The film includes a mesmerizing sushi preparing sequence that’s pure Anderson. Sharing writing credits with regulars Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Kunichi Nourma, Anderson’s script weaves a tale that is heavy on the idiosyncrasies and provides a grand stage for Chief to grow and evolve while on Atari’s single-minded quest.
Isle of Dogs is a welcome addition to Wes Anderson’s catalog of film. His ensemble cast of four-legged canines play off each other well and Mayor Kobayshi is an effective villain. Add to that the marvellously constructed world backed by Alexandre Desplat’s effectively off-beat score, and it makes for a film I can recommend.