Isle of Dogs
This is one of the strangest—and coolest—experiences you will have in a theater this year. Wes Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation (after 2009’s excellent Fantastic Mr. Fox) is another visual masterpiece. While the story itself goes a little flat for stretches, it’s a nonstop visual splendor for its entire running time. Two decades in the future, Megasaki, a fictional Japanese city, is ruled by the evil Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). Kobayashi is a cat person, and after the nation’s dogs come down with a strange strain of dog flu, all canines are banned to Trash Island to live out their days scavenging through garbage and rumbling in the junkyards. Kobayashi’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), misses his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and sets out to find his beloved pet on Trash Island. The island is occupied by various dog gangs, one of them consisting of Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Whether it’s live action or stop-motion, you can count on Anderson’s usual gang of performers to show up. (Welcome to the Wes Anderson party, Bryan Cranston!) There’s some dog gang squabbling for leadership honors, with Rex often calling for votes that the rebel Chief always loses. When Atari shows up on the island, Chief winds up spending the most time with him, and he learns a little bit about bonding with a boy, as dogs do. There’s a very sweet “love your dogs” message at the center of Anderson’s story, which he wrote with story contributions from Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Nomura.