Twenty years in the future, all dogs in Japan's Uni Prefecture have been exiled to a remote island where they scavenge for food. However, one young boy (voiced by Koyu Rankin) sets out to the island to find his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and befriends a group of dogs, led by a stray named Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston).
From the very get-go of Isle Of Dogs, Wes Anderson makes it clear that the film is very much a parable - and even makes the point of explaining why the Japanese voices remain without subtitling, whilst all dog barks are rendered into English. If Fantastic Mr. Fox was his first attempt at a children's story, Isle Of Dogs is him hitting his stride and coming at it with an assuredness that he may have lacked previously. In fact, like The Grand Budapest Hotel was perhaps his most violent and ordered film, Isle Of Dogs is easily his most heart-warming and affectionate film.
It helps, naturally, if you're a dog person to enjoy Isle Of Dogs - and the film does poke some fun at the untrustworthy nature of cats, as they're seen with each and every adult in the story and wear a scowl in direct contras to the wide-eyed innocence of each dog. The story itself is told with confidence and simplicity, and although there are some clearly defined flashbacks here and there, it never loses its sense of pace or style throughout. In fact, the amalgamation of various animation techniques - there's some regular animation interspersed with stop-motion here and there - is seamless.
As with any Wes Anderson effort, the voice cast assembled is top-notch. Bryan Cranston's gravelly tones work perfectly as Chief, the angry stray who bucks against any kind of authority - not unlike the little boy who's arrived on the island in search of his dog. Edward Norton as Rex, the high-strung, democratically-minded (he takes a vote on every decision made by the group) is perfectly pitched against him while the remainder of the group - Jeff Goldblum as a gossipy Husky, Bill Murray as a former baseball mascot, Bob Balaban as a pampered show-dog - all have enough personality to shine through. Indeed, every dog that's encountered in the story shines through and becomes memorable with the briefest of interaction. Tilda Swinton plays a pug called Oracle who has all of maybe three lines in the film, but easily has one of the funniest moments in the film.
The film plays out like a children's adventure story, and the message behind it all - that the future belongs to idealism and youth - is particularly potent when it's paired with Anderson's clarity of intent. While it may suffer from a certain drag in parts and perhaps loses its footing - particularly in the final act - Isle Of Dogs is nevertheless a wholesome and enjoyable trip to the cinema.