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Film: Isle Of Dogs latest self-consciously offbeat buddy comedy from Wes Anderson

Boss (voiced by Bill Murray), Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) in Isle Of Dogs
Damon Smith

SINCE his critically acclaimed debut feature Bottle Rocket, writer-director Wes Anderson has skipped merrily down the path less travelled with offbeat ensemble comedies including the Oscar-winning magnum ludicrous, The Grand Budapest.

In 2009, he dipped his big toe into stop-motion animation with a quirky adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox.

The auteur returns to the painstaking art form for this self-consciously offbeat buddy comedy on two and four legs.

Isle Of Dogs reunites the film-maker with longtime collaborators behind and in front of the camera including cinematographer Tristan Oliver and composer Alexandre Desplat.

Anderson employs an episodic structure with pithy chapter headings like The Little Pilot, The Rendezvous and Atari's Lantern to neatly bookmark his visually stunning odyssey.

The detail of miniature sets and character figures is remarkable and there are some lovely touches like multiple uses for cotton wool and lice slaloming through dogs' matted fur in skin-crawling close-up.

Yoko Ono enjoys a throwaway cameo as a plucky research scientist called ... Yoko Ono.

The film is arch, knowing and impeccably conceived but emotionally a tad chilly, revelling in the inventiveness and imagination of the writer-director's unique vision at the expense of collaring our emotions for a satisfying walk.

Set on the Japanese Archipelago 20 years into the future, the film's chief villain is self-serving politician Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), who is responsible for the well-being of the gullible citizens of Megasaki.

As an ardent cat lover, Kobayashi decrees that the only way to eradicate an outbreak of virulent snout fever is to exile canines to a remote island, where Megasaki dumps its residential waste.

Voters comply and the mayor's 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) is forced to bid farewell to his shaggy companion, Spots.

The resourceful tyke defies the mayor and menacing henchman Major Domo (Akira Takayama) to steal a plane and fly to the island to be reunited with his pet.

Atari crash-lands and befriends a disparate pack of mangy mutts including Chief (Bryan Cranston), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).

They embark on a daredevil mission to overturn the Mayor's edict.

"That kid is going to get us all put to sleep," forlornly growls one dog.

Thankfully, Atari has allies in a visiting American girl (Greta Gerwig) and a seductive show dog named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson).

Isle Of Dogs lollops along at a brisk pace, laced with flashes of Anderson's droll humour.

The vocal cast chews on these verbal bones with relish, particularly Goldblum as a dog with a penchant for listening to wicked whispers.

Visually, this is leaps and bounds ahead of Fantastic Mr Fox but retains the same roughly hewn charm, albeit with a distinctive eastern aesthetic.

East meets west and we get the best of both madcap worlds.

ISLE OF DOGS (PG, 101 mins) Animation/Comedy/Drama/Romance. Featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama. Director: Wes Anderson

Released: March 30

RATING: 7/10

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