Tropic Sprockets / Isle of Dogs

By Ian Brockway

The uncompromising Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) offers another
colorful tour de force in “ Isle of Dogs” a film that is as meaningful as
it is vibrant. The film, which unfolds as richly as origami, may delight
some and confuse others with its many asides and its endless bits of
commentary, but it is always thoughtful, laser sharp in design and never
predictable.

This is an animated stop action film reminiscent of the Rankin/ Bass
Christmas TV productions, set in a future Japan. The nation is in the grips
of fascist dictator Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) and a canine virus has the
country hysterical with hatred and fear. Kobayashi orders that all dogs be
rounded up and exiled to Trash Island for the rest of their lives.

One such dog is Spots (Liev Schreiber), in charge of protecting Kobayashi’s
nephew Atari (Koyo Rankin). The dog is locked in a crate and left for dead.
Atari steals a plane and resolves to find the lost dog.

Arriving at Trash Island he meets the dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex
(Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Boss (Bill Murray), who resolve
to find the missing dog.

The visual sweep of the film carries the story along. It is as beautifully
rendered as an Asian tapestry. At times the visual effects are so rapid and
hyper that it is almost several films within one. It is full of scenes one
can look at many times and still be hard pressed to catch every detail.
Rather than a distraction though this film is a triumph of style. Colors
and grand designs pop and fizz in front of you, accompanied by captions and
verbal asides. It is nothing less than a pop up book that is forever in
motion delighting the eye.

Most magically each dog comes across as a geniune being with thoughts,
feelings and pathos. Amazing it is to see each dog’s expressions change
from passivity to alarm, sadness or snarling with a sense of purpose. All
emotion exists in the eyes.

One feels for these dogs as individuals because they are dismissed by a
blank and shallow world. The people live by rote. To perform surgery
requires the same care as eating sushi.

If you are irritated by the commentary of Edward Norton, focus instead on
the hypnotic multifaceted icons and settings. There is more than enough
visual feast here, so much that it almost becomes a surfeit.

Yoko Ono has a surprising turn as the voice of a depressed scientist and
Harvey Keitel will wrench some tears, playing a canine overcome with grief,
howling in sadness.

There is much to like in “ Isle of Dogs” and it is not necessary to get
every deadpan quip to enjoy the film, all that you need is to look into the
face of Spots and Chief and see our own struggle, be it domestic worry or
authoritarian blight.

The truth is within, inside a pair of frosty blue eyes.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com