Isle of Dogs

After four live-action features of varying emotional and narrative quality, I'd argue that what we now call "Wes Anderson Style" was perfected in his first stop-motion animated film, 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'm not just talking about Anderson's retro, detail-obsessed visual style but also his tonal style, where the occasional mawkishness found in The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited was supplanted by a buoyant but bone-dry bittersweetness. The films he's done since then have all taken place in the past, none of his characters get very deep, and the formula works brilliantly.

The question, then, is when you've perfected your style, where do you take it? First, Anderson added unexpected violence and blunt profanity to his Eastern Europe-set The Grand Budapest Hotel. Now, back in stop-motion territory with Isle of Dogs, he heads to Japan. With visuals more precisely-tuned than ever, the director finds himself at home with the country's renowned fetish for perfectionism: many shots echo the elegant compositions of '50s/'60s Japanese films.

The film's tightly-structured plot, conceived by Anderson with regular cohorts Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, and Japanese radio host Kunichi Nomura rounding out the foursome, is set "20 years in the future" – a future that looks remarkably like early '60s Japan. Megasaki's evil mayor (voiced by Nomura), a descendent of a cat-loving clan, banishes the city's flu-stricken canine population to a sprawling island of trash. There the poor pooches face a certain death from a virus whose antidote the mayor has suppressed. Enter the mayor's 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin), who flies off to the island in search of his beloved pet Spots. Much heroism and boy-dog bonding ensues.

The story is engaging, but you're really here for the astounding animation, the whimsical miniature sets, and Anderson's trademark deadpan humor. (While most humans speak in Japanese, all the dogs speak in English, and are voiced by Anderson regulars like Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and of course Bill Murray – though newcomer Bryan Cranston voices the "main" dog Chief.) The director gives you exactly what you came for.

Suffice to say, Isle of Dogs – you get the pun – is cute, clever, and totally Wes Anderson-y. However, I will close with a pro tip: look up the cast on IMDb before you see the movie. Their names whiz by quickly in the film's opening credits, and you might get distracted, as I did, trying to guess which celebrity is voicing each character.