Dogs are known for their unwavering loyalty, but as Wes Anderson’s second animated tale Isle of Dogs illustrates, their owners have been known to echo that devotion.

It’s the tale of a boy named Atari, his dog Spots and a whole lot of politics – ancient cat and dog politics. But it’s set in the near future.

A dog flu virus has broken out in Japan’s Megasaki City, and even though a cure is close to being finalised, its cat-leaning mayor signs a decree that banishes all dogs to the city’s tip, Trash Island. The first victim? His orphaned nephew Atari’s trusty companion. The boy isn’t going to stand for this, however, so he eventually pilfers a plane and flies off for Trash Island, aiming to rescue his beloved Spots. Atari ends up crash landing, but is saved by a quintet of dogs in Rex, King, Duke, Boss and Chief. The search for Spots commences, while politics continue to play out in Megasaki City. Heroes come in many forms…

Stop-motion animated with character oozing from every frame, and brimming with the usual incredible star-laden Wes Anderson kind of cast providing voices, Isle of Dogs really possesses a unique charm.

In much the same way that classic Peanuts cartoons had the kids such as Charlie Brown speaking English while all adults spoke in trombone wah-wahs, here humans talk in un-subtitled Japanese, while the dogs speak English. It’s no cause for confusion to non-Japanese speakers though, as the important stuff is either explained via voiceover or is obvious via tone or expression. Meanwhile, text is represented in both languages, to striking effect.

Go ahead say it. I’m a stray, yeah.

Harking back to politics, much has been made of Anderson’s mish-mashed plundering of Japanese culture, but we like to see the history of the main protagonist’s name as a sort of allegory for what we have here. While often thought of as being Japanese, “Atari” comes from the ancient Chinese board game Go, and the famous video games company was an American one. Similarly, Anderson appropriates vibes from Japanese influences throughout his vision-loving life – in particular Star Wars inspiration The Hidden Fortress creator Akira Kurosawa and Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki – and weaves them into his own inventive and quite marvellous creation that plucks from many other non-Japanese creative influences.

From deft animated touches such as the delightful limb-flailing foofs of dust representing scuffles, right through to its charismatic yet slightly off-kilter story that ultimately champions the downtrodden – with many a pleasing stop in-between – Isle of Dogs has a lot of love to give. Maybe that’s why the title is a homophone – “I love dogs”?

star-4In cinemas: April 12, 2018
Starring: The voices of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray
Directed by: Wes Anderson