Feel free to disagree with me on this because I will completely understand, but I really do believe that Wes Anderson is the current incarnation of early Tim Burton (back when Burton actually made good films like PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE, BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and ED WOOD). Anderson has had a few slips such as THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU and (from what I hear) THE DARJEELING LIMITED, but all in all he has managed to create a fantastical world that lies somewhere in the past, but you’re not quite sure where. His characters are strange and immensely fascinating. The stories Anderson tells are as unique as the environments they inhabit. I love quirky, deadpan humor and it is why I liked the early Tim Burton films and films such as NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Wes Anderson is not for everybody, especially for anyone whose idea of humor is a fart joke and considers Adam Sandler to be God’s gift to comedy. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but Anderson’s films cater more to an intellectual crowd that is used to more subtlety than in-your-face crassy jokes. At the same time, sit any child in front of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and I defy you to tell me your kid didn’t enjoy the hell out of that film.

MOONRISE KINGDOM takes place on an island that is surrounded by a few other islands. We don’t know where in the world these islands are because they are fictional, but its probably safe to assume they’re near the U.S. The story is a simple one: Its set in 1965 and its about two youngsters in love. It’s about Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an orphan who attends “Khaki Scout” summer camp. He loves Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a girl who’s staying on the island for the summer with her attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three brothers. Sam and Suzy decide to run away together. Their disappearance causes a search party to look for them, which is led by the only local cop on the island, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and the Scout Master of the Khaki Scout summer camp, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). The two lovers are eventually found, but the story doesn’t end there.

For both Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, MOONRISE KINGDOM marks their professional acting debut. They lack chemistry together, but that’s sort of the point given how no 12-year old is likely to understand what love is yet. On the other hand, these two characters are so wonderfully conceived by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (the other writer in this film) and the actors are so perfectly cast to play them, that any deficiencies in the performances simply become part of the characters. Jared Gilman is particularly noteworthy and he reminded me of another Wes Anderson discovery: Jason Schwartzman (RUSHMORE). By the way, like Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman is also a member of the Coppola family (Talia Shire’s son). Coincidence? Part of what makes Gilman memorable is the strange way he speaks. I couldn’t tell if this was due to some sort of speech impediment or if it was just a screwed up (yet endearing) manner of speaking. As for Kara Hayward, she’s great as the defiant daughter whose motivations for running off with Sam seem to stem just as much from her dysfunctional relationship with her parents than her love for Sam.

Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy’s parents. The film doesn’t delve too much into their backgrounds and all we’re really told is that their marriage is on the rocks. Most of their time is spent coordinating with Captain Sharp and Scout Master Ward in finding their daughter. Bill Murray has a few funny scenes, but his role here doesn’t approach anywhere near the genius he displayed in RUSHMORE.

As for Bruce Willis, although he pretty much plays the same serious, gruff roles he’s played for many years now, his character seems to have been written to fit his acting style. I would love to see Willis go back to his wise-cracking days of MOONLIGHTING, DIE HARD, and HUDSON HAWK (yes, I said HUDSON HAWK). That style wouldn’t fit the Captain Sharp character, but it would be a nice change of pace for Willis fans and perhaps even for Willis’ box office fortunes. One particularly great scene in MOONRISE KINGDOM takes place after Captain Sharp has found Sam and Suzy and he takes Sam back to his trailer to stay the night. Sam and Captain Sharp have a conversation over beer where Sharp gives the kid a few swigs from his glass. The interaction between the two is fun to watch as the two begin to develop what will eventually become a father-son relationship.

Now on to my favorite character in the film (and I’m guessing most audience’s favorite): Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward. Norton’s notorious reputation for being difficult may have cost him the Incredible Hulk role in THE AVENGERS, but had he behaved and been subsequently cast as the Hulk, we would not then have had the luxury of watching the even better Mark Ruffalo play the green beast and might not have seen Norton play one of the best roles of his career as Scout Master Ward. For one, Norton just looks like the perfect boy scout. His look reminds me of the classic Boy Scout paintings by Norman Rockwell. Scout Master Ward takes great pride in being a Khaki Scout and there is nothing more in the world that gives him more joy than leading his troop. Ward leads his troop in a no-nonsense regimented manner that makes no room for slip-ups, no matter how small in detail. Anderson adds a tiny wrinkle to Ward’s strict behavior by making him a chain smoker. Its quirky, small details such as these that adds to your enjoyment of watching MOONRISE KINGDOM.

The film also stars Tilda Swinton, who plays (you guessed it) another bitchy, undersexed character and Bob Balaban, the audience’s guide to the world of MOONRISE KINGDOM.

I like my films to look beautiful so eye-candy is a big deal to me. I’m not talking about visual effects, but rather the cinematography of a movie. One of the best aspects, if not THE best aspect of MOONRISE KINGDOM, is its look. The film is set in 1965 during what seems to be late summer. Like all of his other films, Wes Anderson collaborates once again with Robert Yeoman (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, GET HIM TO THE GREEK, BRIDESMAIDS). The film was shot in the Super-16 format, which is perfect for Anderson’s visual style. Yeoman also used Super-16 to shoot THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, which I drew comparisons to when watching MOONRISE KINGDOM. Anderson has a very idiosyncratic style and you can tell he’s been heavily influenced by 1960’s and 1970’s filmmakers. The film is chock full of visual details that you’ll only be able to fully capture by freeze framing each shot. In addition, the settings are absolutely gorgeous, especially one particular scene where Sam and Suzy spend a romantic period at an island cove. The rest of the natural locations are brilliantly shot and the creativity and style of the interior locations are just as stunning to look at.

MOONRISE KINGDOM is an eccentric fable that is meticulously visualized by one of America’s most interesting directors. Wes Anderson offers an innocent portrayal of adolescent love without sexualizing it any way or making it sappy and nostalgic. On a final note, Anderson uses Benjamin Britten’s 1946 recording of “The Young Person‘s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 (Themes A-F)” to introduce his characters. Its an ingenious way of setting up his cast and adds to the multi-layered texture of his time period.

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