As one who was not of the opinion that The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was the greatest thing since sliced bread (to me it was just plain silly), I approached Wes Anderson’s latest animated feature with a hefty degree of doubt. Then I remembered his Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). Anderson has a unique visual style that has tended to override his narrative, but not here. This is a beautiful movie, especially if you are a lover of dogs and Japanese art (which I am). Set in the near future, an outbreak of dog flu has resulted in the Mayor of Megasaki (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) banning all canines to a rubbish-dump island. The gang whom we follow (Brian Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum – all astutely cast for their speech subtleties), is joined by the mayor’s adopted son, Atari (Koyu Rankin), who is looking for his beloved Spots. It is easy enough to interpret the story as an allegory of how autocratic rulers (and wannabe rulers, like Peter Dutton) demonise minority groups and ostracise their supporters, but you needn’t go that far to become drawn into the drama. The humour is affectionate, the characters consistent and the ‘Lady and the Tramp’ romance between Chief and Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) a coy diversion from the conflict between power and rebellion. The lasting impression, however, is made by the stunning artwork. As homage to Japanese painting and design, both classical and contemporary, it is exquisite, while every shot is framed with a Western adherence to severe frontal composition. Nothing is not meticulously detailed and balanced – a group of baseball players in their striped uniforms watching TV in a noodle bar, a samurai contest, schoolkids in a classroom, even the grungy island strewn with trash – every moment is a celebration to the eyes. A superior cartoon made more for adults than children, it harks back to a vanishing sense of togetherness and compromise – even Chief the non-conformist will change his ways for love. Great stuff. Empowerment, but the sting in the tail is okay.
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