Wes Anderson takes the stop-motion animation light and magic of the Oscar-nominated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to a whole new level with his visually captivating new movie “Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight/Indian Paintbrush). Set 20 years in the future in the Japanese archipelago of Megasaki City, where corrupt, wealthy, domineering and cat-loving mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) – think Putin + Trump – plans to entirely eliminate the canine population.
The metropolis’ dogs, many of whom are in failing health, have been banished to secluded Trash Island. With them all in one place, Kobayashi plans to kill every dog if he wins re-election. His electoral victory seems like a done deal, with the chances of Science Party candidate Watanabe (Akira Ito), who has been researching a curative serum for the dogs, becoming increasingly slim by the minute.
Just to prove that no one is exempt, one of the first dogs sent to Trash Island is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who happens to be the body guard/companion of Atari (Koyu Rankin), the 12-year-old orphaned nephew/ward of Kobayashi. Atari is so distraught over the relocation of Spots that he flies a small plane to the island to rescue him.
When the plane crashes on Trash Island, Atari begins to meet some of the four-legged residents. His initial, and most significant, contact is with the pack of alpha dogs that includes smart and kind Rex (Edward Norton), cautious King (Bob Balaban) and Boss (Bill Murray), gossipy, rumor-spreading Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and anti-social Chief (Bryan Cranston). The dogs nurse Atari back to health and assist him on his quest to find Spots. Along the way they encounter members of the pooch population including former show dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), misunderstood outcast Gondo (Harvey Keitel), and wise duo Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton), among others.
Meanwhile, back on the mainland Kobayashi and his evil henchman Major Domo (Akira Takayama) will do anything to make sure that dogs are obliterated, having already invented the virus that brings about their banishment, as well as killing off the opposition, as in the case of Watanabe’s wasabi poisoning. Nevertheless, there is hope in the form of American exchange student Tracy (v/b Greta Gerwig), who not only harbors a secret crush on her contemporary Atari, but also believes in righting wrongs.
There was no way that Anderson could have predicted the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the way that American youth would rise up and become a force to be reckoned with. But the timeliness of Isle of Dogs, with its revolutionary youth movement message, couldn’t possibly have been better.
Additionally, in the midst of this very busy and smart movie is an entertaining, laugh-out-loud comedy. Anderson and his co-screenwriters Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Kunichi Nomura have crafted an out of this world screenplay.
For the PG-13 (in other words, not for kids) tail-wagging joy it inspires, Isle of Dogs gets two paws up. Rating: A