“Isle of Dogs”

Wes Anderson’s animated adventure trek is full of dry wit and laugh-out -loud deadpan humor. It is an up-dated version of a 12 year-old boy searching for his lost dog. The boy, Atari, happens to be Japanese and his savior-in-kind an American foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker ( Greta Gerwig’s voice).

We begin with “ Ten centuries ago before…” and the disclaimer that all barks have been rendered in English. We are introduced to “underdog dogs” who have been banished to a trash island. A complicated back story is told in several flashbacks. A 67th term incumbent has transformed the Japanese archipelago into a dog free state. The question of “ What ever happened to man’s best friend?” is asked again and again as the tidal wave of dog hysteria over snout fever deports all canines to the Isle of Dogs. “Fear has been mongrelized”. Here, in “Isle of Dogs”, we see rain and rats and maggot strewn refuse.

Bryan Cranston’s voice and wry tone  are perfect as the nomadic alpha dog, Chief. We hear rumors circulating amongst Duke, Boss, Rex and Chief: “ One of our own hanged himself on his own leash”. On the up side , we meet Nutmeg, a preening show dog who does lap dog tricks and keeps the male dogs sniffing. Most of the dog fights are over food, however ; and one of my favorite scenes is when the crew waxes over their favorite long lost treats be it green-tea ice cream or Kobe beef with lots of salt and pepper.

Our storyline meshes with kidney transplants, robotic replacement pets, aboriginal dogs, military issued teeth, and messenger owls. Add conspiracy theories, pro-dog student protests, and “red button” fears, and we wonder how Anderson can be so “au current” in his tale of tails.

The haikus rendered at apt parts are lovely. They stay to the traditional form and therefore include images of nature’s seasonal beauty, even as we see the trash mounding skyward. The five syllabic count lines “Frost on windowpane” and “Falling spring blossoms” made me smile.

The stop-action animation I am drawn to, but there are plenty of action dust clouds for others. Silhouettes and shadows are appreciated. The drum beat sound track keeps one’s heart pulsing and the stellar list of voice overs range from the aforementioned Cranston and Gerwig to Liev Schreiber, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

I could see this treat again, but with Japanese sub-titles and even more campy refuse like igloos of saki bottles and hacker cubbies. Atari does find his pet and a new litter gives hope for the future. Wes Anderson answers the question “ Who are we, and who do we want to be?” with a animal loving  a drum roll.

“The Jungle Book”

Rudyard Kipling wrote the rhythmic and balanced line : “for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. Why scriptwriter Justin Marks had the trusted bear Baloo call this chant “propaganda” neglects the revolutionary theme of diverse creatures working together.

In fact, all “The  Jungle” ‘s  creatures could be grouped according to those with primarily self-interest and revenge on their minds ( take Kaa, King Louis and  Shere Khan,as examples) and those with aid and support of others foremost in mind ( like Bagherra, Akela, Raksha and Baloo) The Peace Rock scenes mirror nirvana for a time, where all hierarchies are put aside.

I was very pleased that my six-year-old grandniece selected the little group of tumbling, squealing wolf cubs, especially Grey Brother, as her favorite animal of “The Jungle”. Practicing their howls, having fun and cooperating seem like  values consistent with a kindergarten graduate.

Jon Faureau directs some scary scenes. The natural laws of the forest primeval are here. (Warning to those considering taking a two,three, or four-year-old) Learning how to run is highly sanctioned.  Neel Sethi, as Mowgli, practices with the panther, Bagheera, at the film’s start. Ben Kingsley’s voice is mellow and fatherly in his admonitions.

In fact, for me,  it is the voices that have prominence in this film. Christopher Walken’s orangutan, King Louis, is terrifying , as are his monkey hoards. His ” I want to be you” just may be problemed-solved by swallowing Mowgli up whole. And Scarlet Johannson’s hypnotic and sensuously-voiced Python lulls us into danger with its warmth.

One of my favorite scenes is of Baloo ( Bill Murray, sounding like Seth Rogen ) becoming Mowgli’s river raft as they both sing “The Bare Necessities”. Mowgli, the man- cub of Kipling’s imagination, demonstrates his tricks (  his problem-solving ) by constructing all kinds of pulleys and crane-like devices to help the lazy Baloo retrieve his  beloved honeycombs.

Mother and father wolves score high points for sacrifice and love. Another reason why I loved my charge’s favorite animal choice.  Akela ( Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha  ( Lupita Nyong’o) soar above the Bengal tiger Shere Khan ( Idris Elba) in  nurturing warm fuzzies.

According to “The Guardian”, ” The Jungle Book”  2016 has garnered 684 million dollars worldwide so far. I don’t know exactly why 1893 original magazine stories and their moral tales draw such attention, but teaching younger viewers to stay in their seats until the final credits roll is a laudable goal. Teach them to watch the scroll of first names and scout for their own.  My grandniece found no ” Lydias”, but she did count eight “James’, her little brother’s name. Teach the young that    “going  to the movies” supports the creative work of many. “The Jungle Book” ‘s theme of cooperation will be even further enhanced.