A splendid jewel box of a movie about rather grisly matters, Wes Anderson's animated follow-up to The Grand Budapest Hotel represents another example of the clash between the director's playfully self-aware aesthetic and his growing obsession with our inhumanity. In the past, Anderson has seemed content to live with this sort of tension. Part of the dark charm of his work has always come from his juxtaposing cruelty with frivolity. But this time, he's also making an animated film for kids, which poses its own challenges.
The story of Isle takes place 20 years in the future on the fictional Japanese island of Megasaki, where gangsterish, brick-shaped Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by co-writer Kunichi Nomura), the scion of an ancient family of dog-hating noblemen who were vanquished many centuries ago, has decreed that all canines be relocated to a remote atoll called Trash Island.
The tale follows a group of mismatched and exiled pups (voiced by the likes of Bill Murray, Ed Norton and Jeff Goldblum) as they attempt to aid a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), who just happens to be Mayor Kobayashi's orphaned nephew and has crash-landed on the island in search of his beloved hound Spots (Liev Schreiber).
Anderson has a sharp grasp of slapstick and visual humor, and he uses deadpan about as well as anybody since the great silent comedians. But for all the laughs and the social resonance, Anderson and his team have first and foremost conjured up a work of spellbinding loveliness. This might be the director's most visually striking film, with its luminous cityscapes, its forbidding and surreal wastelands, its smoky, shadowy interiors.