MOVIE REVIEW: Underdog the hero in delightful canine film

ISLE OF DOGS (PG)

 

Rating: Three and a half stars (3.5 out of 5)

 

Director: Wes Anderson

 

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray

 

A wonderfully scrappy underdog story

 

BOY is dog's best friend in Wes Anderson's flea-bitten canine odyssey, set in Japan in a dystopian near future.

While 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin), an orphan and ward of the dog-hating mayor of Megasaki, doesn't say much, he shares an intense bond with his speckle-eared hound Spots (Liev Schreiber).

When Atari's authoritarian guardian banishes the beloved pooch, along with the rest of the city's canine population, to Trash Island as a response to an outbreak of dog flu, the young boy sets out to find him.

Atari's epic journey takes him to a barren, wretched wasteland where the animals fight each other for scraps.

A scene from Wes Anderson's wonderfully detailed movie Isle of Dogs.
A scene from Wes Anderson's wonderfully detailed movie Isle of Dogs. Supplied

A pack of alpha dogs with names such as Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray) and Chief (Bryan Cranston) takes pity on Atari - it seems his, ahem, dogged devotion has reawakened the old-timers' better instincts.

They accompany the furrow-browed youngster on his journey across the godforsaken landscape, during which they encounter the mutated survivors of a series of cruel scientific experiments.

Chief is the only holdout in this warm and fuzzy arrangement. A former stray, he is deeply wary of humans. Cranston's crusty cynic is the star of the film.

Back on the mainland, the dogs' plight is being investigated by a crazy-brave US foreign exchange student named Tracy (Greta Gerwig). An activist with a curly blonde helmet of hair and acne, she and Atari are similarly unconventional protagonists.

There hasn't been a young couple this well suited since Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom in 2012.

And there hasn't been a world this painstakingly built since the director's last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Anderson has a way with animals, as he proved in 2009's The Fantastic Mr Fox, his crafty stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book.

FRom left, Bill Murray as Boss, Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King and Jeff Goldblum as Duke in a scene from Isle of Dogs.
FRom left, Bill Murray as Boss, Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King and Jeff Goldblum as Duke in a scene from Isle of Dogs. Supplied

The humour here is even darker and Isle of Dogs' distinctive aesthetic is unusually spare and bleak.

The film has as much in common with Lassie, Benji or Beethoven as a streetwise mongrel does with a pampered show dog.

The cost of resisting state-sanctioned tyranny is high. By the end of their journey, many of the characters are missing limbs or even organs.

Underdog stories don't come much scrappier than this.

Isle of Dogs has been accused of cultural appropriation and that criticism - particularly in relation to Tracy's white saviour role and the fact that the dogs all speak American - is not without validity.

Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker in a scene from Isle of Dogs.
Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker in a scene from Isle of Dogs. Supplied

But Anderson's vision is so peculiar and strange, the argument for cultural appreciation is perhaps even stronger. The director himself cites master Japanese director Akira Kurosawa as an influence.

A one-of-a-kind, sweet-and-salty bitser.

OPENS THURSDAY (April 12)



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