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Wes Anderson puts his storybook approach to its most appropriate use yet with Isle of Dogs, a fable of friendship and loyalty that asks what we really owe each other.

In an Andersonian Japan, the cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi of Megasaki responds to an epidemic of canine flu by banishing all dogs to an island of rubbish. Years later, his adopted nephew Atari heads there in search of his beloved pet Spots. It’s probably Anderson’s most ridiculous plot yet, but it suits both the exaggerated animation and the micromanaged narrative style perfectly.

The opening 10 minutes are like the wittiest infomercial you’ve ever seen, turning exposition and world-building into goofy comedy, but after that, there’s some bold choices. By leaving lots of the Japanese dialogue untranslated and keeping the characters deadpan, the director has to rely on his visuals to tell the story – luckily, there are few better at doing this than Anderson.

With the help of cinematographer Tristan Oliver, his camera slides and spins through every scene, flicking between reaction shots and visual details that reveal more narrative and raise more laughs than most directors could manage with a page of dialogue. Even more importantly, when his characters do speak they don’t waste a word, with the likes of Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and best of all Bryan Cranston bringing humanity to the canine ensemble.

There’s no doubt that Isle of Dogs combines the intimate and the epic to great effect, balancing the story of one boy and his dog against the genocide of an entire species. But while the epic vistas and stop-motion animation are filled with delicate details and the comedy offset by a melancholy mood, sometimes Anderson’s direction is so controlled, his characters so cool that emotion or excitement is sacrificed. Even as the plot careens through kidnappings, assassinations and political corruption it rarely feels like there’s that much at stake. In other words, Isle of Dogs has more bark than it knows what to do with – but maybe not quite enough bite.