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Wes Anderson Perfectly Captures a Feeling with “Moonrise Kingdom”

October 15, 2012

By John C.

There have been many small movies that have been big highlights of the year, and one of the best of these films was Wes Anderson’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom.  After a successful run in limited release back in June, the film is coming to Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, where it deserves to find an even bigger audience.

Although I have already declared my love for Moonrise Kingdom on several different occasions and offered a retrospective of Wes Anderson’s work back in June, it recently came to my attention that I have never specifically written about the film.  Now seems like the perfect time to give it a little more attention.

A wonderful tale of young love set in the 1960s, Moonrise Kingdom follows Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward).  Both twelve years old, he is a Khaki Scout at odds with the rest of his troop and she is a dreamer who experiences adventure through the world of library books.  They have been in love since last summer and have finally realized their dreams of running away together with stolen supplies and a suitcase filled with books.  But as the narrator (Bob Balaban) warns us, there is a storm coming to New Penzance and it’s going to be the worst that the little island has ever seen.

A search is put in place to find Sam and Suzy, under the dedicated guidance of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and the strict Social Services (Tilda Swinton).  But the reasons why they ran away are pretty clear.  Sam is constantly being moved between foster homes and Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), have long since lost the romantic spark that presumably once came between them.  None of the adults seem to understand why these kids have fallen for each other, but perhaps it’s because the grown ups are the ones who have forgotten how to be in love.

Filled with style and substance, I’ve enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films and Moonrise Kingdom has an all star cast that offers many delights for fans of the director and is sure to be admired even by those less versed in his work.  The performances are all excellent, including young newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward who bring something truly special to the leading roles.  There is a maturity to their performances in the way that they so perfectly capture the youthful emotions of the characters.  They are seen kissing, but the film handles these scenes with such innocence that their charming romance thankfully never feels overly sexualized.

Although it takes Wes Anderson back to his live action roots, Moonrise Kingdom is in many ways the perfect follow up to the director’s lovingly produced stop motion film Fantastic Mr. Fox, right down to the charming touch of having Sam and Suzy dressed as foxes during the finale of the film.  Beautifully shot on 16mm, every frame has the look of a photograph, allowing for plenty of nostalgia at every turn.  But just like all of Wes Anderson’s films, the script also allows for plenty of dry and sometimes dark humour, including several perfectly realized long shots that allow the moments of visual comedy to play out on multiple levels.

I often talk about how the best coming of age films are able to perfectly capture a time and place, and Moonrise Kingdom so beautifully evokes a few weeks in the life of these characters as set against the constantly changing backdrop of the 1960s.  But perhaps the most honest thing I can say about Moonrise Kingdom is that it makes us feel like we are twelve all over again, old enough to fully understand the craziness of the adult world, but young enough to not want to be a part of it.  When we look at the film that way, who can really blame these kids for falling in love and running away?

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