Wes Anderson challenges, entertains with stop-motion “Isle of Dogs”

Mayor Kobayashi , voiced by Kunichi Nomura, in Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs" (Image courtesy of Flicker).

Colin Vanden Berg

Associate Arts & Culture Editor

Since the invention of the medium, American animated films have overwhelming been produced and marketed as family films—in America, at least. Japan and Europe have produced animation with mature content for decades, but very rarely do such films see wide distribution in the U.S. Isle of Dogs, the animated film written and directed by Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox, “Grand Budapest Hotel”) therefore stands out as the rare PG13 animated feature to receive a wide release. Heavily inspired by anime and Japanese culture, the film’s compelling narrative is bolstered by Anderson’s singular directing style, which makes for an entertaining if somewhat disjointed and unsettling viewing experience.

The film takes place in an alternate Japan, in which the dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi

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Kunichi Nomura) reigns, and all dogs are banished to Trash Island due to carrying several contagious diseases. A young boy named Atari (Kunichi Nomura) enters the island in search of his lost dog Spots, an act which garners the attention of several dogs as well as the local government.

“Isle of Dogs” opens with text explaining that all Japanese human characters speak their native language throughout the film, occasionally translated by English-speaking reporter characters. As most of the drama centers around the English-speaking dog characters, this creative decision does not significantly impair the story’s intelligibility. The English newscasts are frequent enough to fill in any language-related gaps in the story, and Anderson’s careful placement of labels and important images provide helpful clues for the savvy viewer. However; the language barrier, in addition to the intermittent violence and mature storytelling, makes the film’s suitability for children questionable.

The film’s world is rich and imaginative, and the story features memorable characters and a few intriguing twists. Anderson takes his time developing both the human and dog characters, which enriches film but slows the pacing. The beautiful stop-motion animation adds further layers to the drama and creates an immersive experience.

The voice-work across board is excellent. Nomura excels as the innocent but determined Atari. Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton give emotional depth and vibrant energy to the main dog characters “Chief “and Rex,” respectively.

The aforementioned slow pacing does hinder the film somewhat, and a particular plot point late in the second act strips the film of some of its energy leading up to the climax. Also, Anderson’ habit of pausing the story to introduce and emphasize characters and plot points drains some of the film’s narrative momentum.

However, the film’s many strong and entertaining elements easily outweigh these few shortcomings. For a beautifully immersive and unique film experience, be sure to check out “Ilse of Dogs.”