2 1/2 (out of 4)
With auteurist trademarks so mathematical, recognizable and unswerving, does that leave any room for Wes Anderson to grow as a filmmaker? Isle of Dogs has everything you could expect and/or enjoy from the idiosyncratic director – relentless symmetry and one point perspective, affected humor, an array of quirky and appropriately named characters and so forth – but none of the unassuming maturity that often elevates his best work above a typical smorgasbord of kitsch.
In returning to stop-motion anthropomorphic animals, reminiscent of his lovely adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox, this feature is sorely missing the razor-edged wit of Noah Baumbach's writing or a story that doesn’t simply please dog-lovers and hipsters. Mr. Fox was for everyone but especially kids – every other Anderson movie has a dark edge from brief moments of harsh violence and a handful of unsavory characters, but all the adult elements can't quite gel in the thoroughly twee diversion of Isle of Dogs.
But of all the criticisms of Anderson's latest, the one thing that can't be overlooked – and won't be especially in the age of SJW-commanded social media outlets – is the film's rather Americanized view of Japan. Sure, perhaps the easy cultural staples and cheap lost-in-translation humor might be intentionally small-minded, but a plot involving the Japanese government's utmost hatred of dogs feels just a few hairs shy of pretty racist. With a filmography of innocence chased with a splash or two of graphic language, violence or sexual maturity, I would assume his appropriation for the sake of an interesting setting was purely affectionate. But who knows how testy millennials and the real Japanese audiences think about this one.
So regardless of racial subtext, Isle of Dogs tries to contrast its cute band of talking dogs with the backdrop of disease, corruption and conspiracy theories. While I understand he's not adapting a children's book this time around, the effort is about half as sophisticated in its plotting, character or dialogue as Anderson's best, even if his filmmaking craft is still commanding. The film is as visually delightful as any of his past work, and the superlative voice cast comes standard, full of talented new recruits (Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig) and familiar timbres to Wes's catalogue (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, many others).
Whereas his last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a calling card to the director's abilities and is furthermore quintessential Wes Anderson despite not being quite his best, Isle of Dogs is firmly amusing but does nothing as the director's ninth feature film other than to dilute the breadth of his creations altogether.
To keep it brief...