What it lacks in substance it more than makes up for with plenty of style and quirky but lovable characters.
Moonrise Kingdom is unmistakably a Wes Anderson film. It features presumptuous children who seem to be more intelligent and mature than the adults and a simple but whimsical storyline that is completely overshadowed by its presentation. Everything is exaggerated and deadpan humor is in abundance. That is what often makes his films so fascinating to watch and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. It is a fun adventurous fantasy that only he is able to create.
In the opening sequence, the camera paces through the house of the Bishop’s, introducing us to the three young boys listening to their precious record player and their older sister Suzy (Kara Hayward) who always has a pair of binoculars around her neck. Their mother Laura (Frances McDormand) is always yelling into a megaphone to call after the children and sometimes even her husband Walt (Bill Murray).
Also located on the fictitious island of New Penzance is a camp belonging to Khaki Scout Group Number 55. On what seems to be a routine morning, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) emerges from his tent then proceeds to do his daily check-ins to make sure his troop members are doing their duties. Finally he notices at the dinner table that one of its members is absent. He rushes to 12 year old Sam Shakusky’s (Jared Gilman) tent to find out that he has “flown the coop”.
Through a flashback a year earlier we see how Sam and Suzy met. During a play of Noah’s Ark Sam wonders around the building and stumbles into a dressing room full of girls dressed as birds. One of the birds catches his eye, the raven, which was played by Suzy. Soon after that run in, they exchanged many love letters back and forth over the course of a year. In their last letters, which brings us to the present time, they agree to run away together.
It is not long before the island’s local policeman Captain Share (Bruce Willis) receives a call from Suzy’s parents that puts the entire island on a manhunt to find the two. Due to Sam’s survival skills learned from being a Khaki Scout, the two young lovers are prepared and seem to not be in any harm. Suzy did bring several reading materials and a battery operated record player after all.
Our narrator (Bob Balaban) informs us that this is set in September of 1965. He also lets us know that in three days time there will be a massive rainstorm that will result in a flood unlike one the island has seen in hundreds of years. This information adds to the urgency of finding Suzy and Sam.
Each scene is meticulously designed with props and a matching color scheme which is a very common feature for a Wes Anderson film. I noticed it early on in Moonrise Kingdom when we see a primary yellow toned kitchen, in the very back of the shot there is a fan that even its blades we’re yellow to match. The little things like those that are often overlooked in other films that are done to perfection.
In addition to the amazing visual style, the other key element in Moonrise Kingdom is the fantastic cast. First you have Bill Murray, who seems to be born to play Wes Anderson films with his deadpan tone (he has been in five of his last six films). Another Anderson veteran is Jason Schwartzman whose sarcasm fits perfectly with his role as one of the Scout Leaders.
Then you have Anderson newcomers such as Bruce Willis, who I was concerned may stick out like a sore thumb in this role but was proven wrong. Edward Norton as the always serious and enthusiastic leader did not miss a beat either. Last but not least, the two young lovers played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman were outstanding together.
It is hard to walk away from a Wes Anderson film with a firm opinion, you must first let it soak in for a bit. It does not help that there is not as much substance in his films. But what Moonrise Kingdom lacks in substance it more than makes up for with plenty of style and quirky but lovable characters.
Moonrise Kingdom, for better or for worse, totally has Wes Anderson written all over it. If you were a fan of his films before, you will love Moonrise Kingdom. On the flip side, if you were not a fan of his work before, I do not think this will change your mind on the matter. Over the years I have come to accept the fact that the plot in his films does not seem to matter as much as the picturesque scenery and development of his quirky characters. It is hard to deny that he is one of the most original American filmmakers in the field today.