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  • by Wes Singleton

Isle of Dogs, B


Rated PG-13, 101 minutes

"Isle of Dogs" is a joyously odd, unconventional stop-motion animation film with talking dogs reclaiming their identity. From acclaimed director Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), it's filled with the usual Anderson quirks and oddities and way too many characters, but it has a big heart.

When, by executive decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin) sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends Chief (the wonderful Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Anderson stalwart Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.

"Isle of Dogs" is an entertaining, quirky stop-motion animation film from Anderson after 2009's equally odd "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" but "Dogs" is funnier and more fun. Though it's suitable for children featuring a young Japanese boy's quest to find his lost talking dog with other talking dogs, it's not necessarily a children's film; if you've seen any of Anderson's films previously, you know they come armed with some dense dialogue that may require some explanation for those under 12, so it may be best to leave them home.

Though filled with oddities such as Tilda Swinton's pug named Oracle or some haiku's that may have you scratching your head, it has the visual, colorful splendor of Anderson's earlier works, and provides some insight into the Japanese culture, albeit a futuristic, dystopian one in which ill dogs are banished to a remote island. It also adds some texture with Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat's folksy score, which seems to underscore its oddities.

"Isle of Dogs" is an ensemble piece, as are most of Anderson's works, though this time he stuffs the film with way too many characters to keep track of. The best moments are focused on the pack of dogs on the island, with Cranston, Norton, Murray, Balaban and scene-stealer Goldblum getting in the best moments. Goldblum's gossipy Duke is the most memorable, and each time he says "did you hear the rumor?" you know it's going to be good.

Listen for the likes of Harvey Keitel, Oscar-winners Swinton and F. Murray Abraham, as well as Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand and even Yoko Ono, though Gerwig and McDormand seem to get lost in a heavily-plotted yet energetic last act. Still, the gleefully odd look they give to Gerwig's character will crack you up on first sight.

"Isle of Dogs" is a breezy, enjoyable and peculiar look at the relationship between man and man's best friend, told largely from the point of view of man's best friend (as stated in the opening credits, "all barks are translated to English"). It's a satisfying, odd and one of the year's most original films. Definitely worth a look, especially for Anderson's fan base.

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