Isle of Dogs – movie review

by James Robins / 12 May, 2018

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Wes Anderson's pet project Isle of Dogs takes aim at populism and xenophobia.

Nothing bad ever happened in Wes Anderson films. There might be a lightning strike, or a bank robbery gone awry or a romantic advance rebuffed. But no touch of evil intruded, until his last work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, when an idyllic European country succumbed to fascism, and Anderson, famous for twee quaintness, had something of a political awakening.

His new film, Isle of Dogs, is a parable about the cheap populism of xenophobia and scapegoating – or perhaps scapedogging. The heroes here are family mutts deported to an island festering with maggots and radioactive garbage by the all-powerful mayor of a fictional Japanese city. (The dogs are voiced by Anderson regulars, including Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton and Ed Norton.) His mission is “total canine annihilation”.

Even if the message is sincere and serious, Anderson still retains his unmistakable penchant for whimsy. Like Fantastic Mr Fox, Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animated film, filled to overflowing with gorgeous colours, witty gestures and snappy camera moves.

The beguiling animation pays rigorous attention to minute details: there’s a world of fear and confusion conjured in the crystalline blue eyes of one dog as he’s caged and sent on a zipline into the wasteland; fur seems to flutter in an absent breeze; dogfights take place in a literal cloud of skewed limbs, like a Looney Tunes scrap.

Anderson has always been a puppetmaster, and in Isle of Dogs, his sensibilities finally begin to make sense. Here’s proof that a cute and cartoonish fable can be both politically and morally urgent.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the May 12, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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