I have said it before when I have written about "The Royal Tennenbaums," and "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and "The Grand Budapest Hotel:" I love the films of Wes Anderson. I love the retro, vintage feel he often achieves not only through story but also through art direction, costume, and music as well. Each film bears the unmistakable mark of Anderson yet each film exists in its own little self-contained milieu. "The Royal Tennenbaums" had an urban setting, "The Life Aquatic" had a fantastic marine motif, "The Darjeeling Limited" careened through India and its culture, and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was old-world Europe at its best. And for "Moonrise Kingdom," Anderson mines the look and sense of islands of the New England coast and the kitschy idea of wilderness scouting for adolescents.
Set in 1965, the story takes place on the tiny fictional island of New Penzance. We follow a runaway Khaki Scout (an Anderson take-off on Cub Scouts) named Sam (played with quirky unflappability by Jared Gilman) and his girlfriend Suzy (played with sullen gravitas by Kara Hayward). Both twelve-year olds are, in their own way, misfits or social outcasts, and together they decide to run away...to the other side of the island. Like most of Anderson's films, the story is by turns deadpan funny and poignantly touching. The cast of towering talent includes some newer faces to Anderson films (Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel) and some Anderson rep players (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman) who have been around for many if not all of Anderson's tales.
And just like all of his other films, there is a literary-storybook connection in the presentation of the film (the clear, unobstructed head-on framing that Anderson loves lends it the look of illustrations from a young person's novel) as well as in the plot (Suzy runs away with a suitcase full of six of her favorite young adult novels). She also runs away with a portable record player to play a record her aunt got her in France: the groovy mid-sixties sound of "Le Temps de l'Amour" by Françoise Hardy. Music plays an important role in this film, imbuing it with a texture and spirit appropriate for each scene, location, and event. I love how we get to see children in a world before the internet. Anderson's kids read books, paint pictures, play outside...things kids just really don't do much of anymore. It is a reference to a more lyrical world, a more sensitive world.
And finally, "Moonrise Kingdom" is beautifully filmed (on 16mm with a golden hue like old Kodachrome snapshots) and exquisitely costumed, as all Anderson films are. Simple impressions of typical 1965 fashions are seen on all the characters but the real highlight is the Khaki Scout uniform, a delightful riff on scouting uniforms with all their little self-referential badges and pins and regalia. Bits of accessories fashioned from fur and leather, and scarf rings naively carved from wood give each scout uniform a personal touch, as though each child made parts of what he is wearing. The scouting motif is made complete with plaid tents, oars, axes, and lots of "cabin" and "lodge" paraphernalia.
After the pair are tracked and discovered, Sam and Suzy must face the consequences of their actions. In this way, "Moonrise Kingdom" is different from other Anderson films in that our protagonists are children and we get to see them essentially before they have grown into world-weary, burdened adults. The end result of the film for me feels lighter and more like a fairy tale than any of his other creations. At first I thought it was that the film was a bit fluffy, inconsequential, but upon reflection I see this is not the case. Anderson usually presents us with sad, discontented adults...and here we get to see them before the malaise sets in. But we are left rooting for them, naturally...
Recommend? Absolutely. It is sweet, charming, funny, silly, bittersweet, poignant. I'm so glad Anderson exists and that he makes such lovely films for the world.