The stop-motion animation is first-rate, sometimes adorable and often eerily lovely. But critic Moira Macdonald couldn't quite warm up to "Isle of Dogs." Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
“I’m a stray. But aren’t we all, in the last analysis?” asks a dog, in the new Wes Anderson movie “Isle of Dogs,” and this may just be the most Wes Anderson-ish line of dialogue ever uttered. “Isle of Dogs” is full of such lines — and Andersonianly framed shots of perfectly centered dogs facing the camera — but it’s also something quite different from the talented maker of “Rushmore,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” And though I adored those three films, and others from him, I couldn’t quite warm up to “Isle of Dogs.” Maybe I’m just a cat person.
Made with pleasantly stuttery stop-motion animation (similar to “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” in that it seems simultaneously state-of-the-art and vaguely homemade from sticks and string), “Isle of Dogs” is a timely story of exile. It takes place mostly on Trash Island, a desolate colony outside Japan where all breeds of dog have been quarantined due to fear of “dog-flu.” A young boy from the mainland, named Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin), arrives one day on a miniature airplane, in search of his beloved dog/guardian Spots (Liev Schreiber). He’s helped on his journey by a pack of five dogs (Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum) and, along the way, makes discoveries that will forever change his home.
Anderson has, as usual, assembled an impressive cast: Schreiber, you’ll note with pleasure, finds exactly the sort of kindly forthrightness that you’d want in a dog’s voice, and Tilda Swinton’s brief turn (as a dog named Oracle) is perfection in its spacey weirdness. The animation is first-rate, sometimes adorable (puppies! With their eyes half open! I squealed!) and often eerily lovely. But Anderson’s choice to have the dogs, played by American actors, speaking English while the Japanese-speaking human characters are frequently untranslated feels awkward and isolating. And the film’s monochromatic quality and frequently static scenes give it a sort of flatness; I found myself often distracted by trying to figure out which voice actor was which, rather than following the story. “Isle of Dogs” is full of delightful touches, but it’s not Anderson’s best. Nice fur, though.
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★★½ “Isle of Dogs,” with the voices of Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Normura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance. Written and directed by Wes Anderson. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. Several theaters.