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Movie Review: 'Isle Of Dogs'

Once, when I was young, my dog ran away. She ran out the door into the rain and never came back. I was heartbroken. After a few days we checked the Humane Society, just in case.

I walked through the hall filled with sad, lonely dogs, and then: There she was. They’d given her a serious haircut, so she looked pretty different, but I looked at her eyes and I could tell I knew her, and she knew me.

There’s something special about kids and their dogs. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the work of director Wes Anderson that this is something he definitely understands. He walks a line between a childlike playfulness and being very adult, and his characters often all act as if they’re the same age: The kids are precocious, the adults are emotionally stunted.

Anderson’s newest, Isle of Dogs, is the second time he’s ventured into stop motion animation, following his delightful Fantastic Mr. Fox. And at its heart, it’s about a boy and his dog. Twenty years in the future, Japan has become overrun by dogs, many of which have a mysterious flu that Japanese officials fear might jump to humans. To counter this, the cat-loving mayor of the city of Megasaki has banished all dogs to “Trash Island,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

But the mayor’s nephew, Atari, is having none of it. He steals an airplane and heads to Trash Island to find his dog, Spots. Along the way, Atari falls in with a pack of alpha dogs, and they endeavor to help him, because, well, dogs love 12-year-old boys.

It may be some relief to Anderson’s detractors to know that Isle of Dogs is far less twee or precious than many of his movies, the animation is absolutely stunning, and it’s actually a bit more political than you might expect. I’m not sure how the movie will play to people who simply don’t like dogs, but for me, it was a deeply charming adventure, and even though I went home to pet my cat, it made me think back on my dog days with a smile.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.