WESTERN politics are so extreme at the moment that you can watch a whimsical animated science-fiction romp about talking dogs in Japan, and it seems to be an upsettingly accurate representation of today’s America. Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs”, which debuted last week at the Berlinale, has a government leader who stokes the public’s fear of a disenfranchised demographic so that he can consolidate his power. It also has a group of high-school children taking a stand against corrupt elected officialdom when their parents fail to do so. In other words, it has everything to do with contemporary reality. And yet it is almost too quirky and outlandish for its own good.

“Isle of Dogs” is Mr Anderson’s second stop-motion animation, following his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and Dahl’s influence is clear whenever the sinister grown-ups loom over the brave animals and lonely youngsters. Above all, though, it is unmistakably Anderson-esque, with all of his oddball signatures: dry, melancholy humour, sans-serif chapter headings, a repertory of hipster character actors, and shots so precisely symmetrical that the left half of the screen could be replaced with a mirror image of the right half, and you’d barely notice the difference. How much you enjoy it all will depend on your tolerance for Mr Anderson’s deadpan idiosyncrasies. This is a film in which a scientist named Yoko One is voiced by the actual Yoko Ono, a gimmick will have some viewers rolling in the aisles and others rolling their eyes.

Even by the director’s standards, “Isle of Dogs” is close to being barking mad. After a caption explains that the human characters will speak in Japanese, and the dogs in English, we are ushered into the fictional, futuristic city of Megasaki. All the canines there have contracted a mysterious illness, so Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) banishes them to a sprawling offshore rubbish dump, Trash Island, where they are left to roam, scavenge, and pine for the lives they once had. One piquant joke is that most of the dogs’ names signify authority—Rex, King, Duke, Boss, Chief—but they’re all desperate to see their masters again.

Not everyone in Megasaki is willing to go along with the mayor’s quarantining. Refusing to roll over and play dead, his orphaned 12-year-old nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), steals a small plane and flies to the island to find his beloved pet, Spots. After he has crash-landed, a pack of scruffy mutts (voiced by Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton and Bob Balaban) guides him through the dystopian junkyard, stopping for occasional battles with his pursuers. (Another fun touch is that, rather than being flashily choreographed martial-arts displays, all the fights scenes look like the ones in children’s comics: that is, they are whirling dust clouds with limbs protruding here and there.) On the mainland, meanwhile, some schoolmates suspect that the nefarious mayor is suppressing a cure for the doggy flu, so they set about exposing his deception.

The two strands come together to form a warm-hearted celebration of rebellion, animal rights and man’s best friend. Mr Anderson’s lackadaisical plotting and largely indistinguishable canine characters prevent “Isle of Dogs” from being especially exciting or touching, but there’s enough arch comedy and outright silliness to get his fans’ tails wagging.

The film will be dogged, though, by accusations of cultural insensitivity. For instance, it’s an American foreign-exchange student (Greta Gerwig) who is the prime mover in the mainland scenes. Couldn’t the Japanese schoolchildren have taken on Kobayashi without a white saviour to do the hard work? On a related note, did Mr Anderson have to pack “Isle of Dogs” with such obvious orientalist reference points as sushi, sumo and samurai? As for the four-legged characters, it’s a pity that they are nearly all male. The inclusion of a token bitch (Scarlett Johansson), who has nothing to do except look pretty and then vanish from the action, hardly balances things out.

It’s remarkable that Disney’s Oscar-winning “Zootopia” (renamed “Zootropolis” in Britain) also had a cast of furry mammals, as well as a scheming mayor who used a secret serum to exploit a city’s prejudices. But its narrative was far richer and more complex than that of “Isle of Dogs”. It’s notable, too, that two other recent Disney releases, “Moana” and “Coco”, made a point of using voice actors with a similar ethnic background to the characters they played, while the studio’s “Big Hero 6” was set in a half-Japanese half-American fantasy metropolis.

As delightful as Mr Anderson’s kooky, hand-crafted aesthetic may be, it comes to something when the corporation behind “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” is producing cartoons which are more sophisticated and daringly progressive than the ones being made by eccentric indie mavericks. The themes of “Isle of Dogs” may be as topical as they could possibly be. But in some other crucial respects, Mr Anderson’s shaggy-dog story is lagging behind the pack.