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Wes Anderson raises his own bar (again) with the magical, moving “Isle of Dogs”


(left to right) Chief (Bryan Cranston), King (Bob Balaban), Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) are searching for Spot (Liev Schreiber). (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13, thematic elements and some violent images; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: the “cast” interviews

IT’S NO SURPRISE that “Isle of Dogs” has Wes Anderson’s fingerprints all over it—it would hardly be a Wes Anderson movie if it didn’t. But this touching, enthralling parable does leave a burning question for those of us who can’t wait to see what he does next:

How does he keep doing it?

We asked the same question when “The Grand Budapest Hotel” came out four years ago. And “Moonrise Kingdom” before that and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” before that and … His films are so captivating that you wonder how he keeps raising the bar.

Anyway, leave the question for later and savor “Isle of Dogs” and its stop-action goodness now.

No synopsis could ever do it justice, but here goes:

Chief (Bryan Cranston), the alpha-est of them all, a tough-talking stray who’s had it with humans.

In a Japanese prefecture in the not-far-off future, corrupt, cat-fancying Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) banishes every dog to Trash Island, a wasteland that’s as bleak as it sounds. Spots (Liev Schreiber), the beloved companion of the mayor’s young ward Atari (Koyu Rankin), was the first to go, and when the boy sets out to find him, he’s helped by the island’s alpha dogs, Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban) and Chief (Bryan Cranston), the alpha-est of them all, a tough-talking stray who’s had it with humans.

But Kobayashi (who had to be modeled after the great Toshiro Mifune) isn’t content to just banish the dogs, most of whom have a flu that could sicken humans. He plans to wipe them out, even though the good-hearted scientist Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) has developed a cure. Atari, Chief and the rest of the pack set out for Megasaki City to stop Kobayashi.

Fans will recognize the Anderson regulars in the cast, which includes Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Courtney B. Vance, Anjelica Huston, Fisher Stevens, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono. They’re all excellent.

That would be enough for two films; this being a Wes Anderson film, though, he heaps on the icing with another visual feast. The stop-action, like it was in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is pure magic, but Anderson also weaves in animation and Japanese puppetry and salutes Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles, too.

The upshot? Each scene is so carefully crafted and whimsical that—also no surprise with an Anderson movie—you want to hit the pause button to take everything in.

Tristan Oliver, the cinematographer on “Mr. Fox,” is back behind the Canon camera (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and, thanks to an impeccable print by 20th Century Fox, we get the full Monty. Detail and contrast are incredible. Same goes for the colors, which touch on every hue imaginable—except when the POV shifts to that of the dogs. There’s no red or green because dogs are partly colorblind and don’t see those colors. How’s that for fine-tuning?

One shortcoming the upconverted 4K Ultra HD version sourced from the 2K mastered is only available on two streaming sites and no physical disc.

Boss (Bill Murphy) with the baseball team before he's shipped off to Trash Island.

Chief looks like a different dog after a bath.

Exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) leads the government protests.

Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat’s (“The Shape of Water,” “Grand Budapest”) superb soundtrack is built on traditional Japanese percussion and, for good measure, is seasoned with a sprinkling of Prokofiev and a dash of 1960s psychedelia courtesy of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. The audio throughout is clear, balanced and deep.

The only downer is the extras, which amount to a handful of short promo features. The “cast” interviews, however, are fun: They’re with Chief, Spots, Boss et al, who talk about their roles and motivations. That said, fans know to bide their time until “Isle of Dogs” joins Anderson’s other titles in the Criterion Collection.

In the meantime, see this now. Otherwise, you’d miss what Boss says in his interview, which sums up “Isle of Dogs” in five words: “A dog’s heart is bottomless.”

Take it from someone who’s given his heart to three of the greatest dogs ever—truer words were never spoken,

- Craig Shapiro




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