In a flurry of recent interviews, Wes Anderson - the corduroyed auteur behind Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and other films about dreamers and depressives who move to a decidedly retro beat - has said his experience on Fantastic Mr. Fox changed his whole approach to moviemaking.
Working with little puppets and tiny props, building forests and towns in impeccable detail - as he and his crew did in that 2009 Oscar-nominated animated feature - prompted Anderson to realize he could create similarly exact and fanciful worlds for his flesh-and-blood actors, too.
Of course, he was already kind of doing that. Even The Darjeeling Limited, shot in India, imagined a kind of niftier, more eccentrically arranged subcontinent. But in Moonrise Kingdom, the exhilarating tale of two very young lovers on the lam, Anderson has created a kind of moving diorama of drama and deadpan. A concocted coastal New England, in an idyllic mid-'60s moment of coonskin caps, Françoise Hardy 45s (with picture sleeves!), and dads in madras pants who drink too much, is zealously contained within the camera's frame, and even when something goes out of control - a flyaway motorcycle, an epic downpour - it doesn't. Wes Anderson is in the wheelhouse - his wheelhouse.
Written by the director in cahoots with his filmmaking friend, Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom is about 12-year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and 12-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), whom he first spies in a bird costume (for a play), is immediately smitten with, and with whom he enters into a secret correspondence that ends with a plan to run away together.
He's at Camp Ivanhoe, a scout facility on an island ringed by sound and sea. She lives with her family (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are the parents, and there are two younger brothers) on the other side of New Penzance, in Summer's End, a comfortably ramshackle abode near the island's lighthouse.
They meet in a meadow. He has a backpack full of camping gear, maps, and supplies. She has a portable record player and a cat poking its head out of a wicker creel. They're off!
And so are a disgruntled mom and dad (Suzy's), a flustered camp leader (Edward Norton), Sam's fellow khaki scouts (none of them like him), a fox terrier, and the town sheriff (a surprisingly sympathetic, tamped-down Bruce Willis). It's a search party with its own issues, its own fractured esprit de corps.
Moonrise Kingdom is about the raptures of falling in love, about how the rest of the world doesn't matter one whit when you lock eyes with the person of your dreams - even if (perhaps especially if) you happen to be in middle school. Gilman and Hayward, neither of them exhibiting any professional kid-actor attitude, are wonderful - making-believe with awkward conviction, even getting a little risque in a beach scene with French kissing. (Don't fret: This is not Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's From Here to Eternity tidal clinch.)
The usual complaints and caveats about Anderson - he's precious, his characters have no grounding in the real world - can be made about Moonrise Kingdom, but so what? This is his seventh feature, he has been working with a gang of collaborators in front of the camera and behind, and his worldview gets richer, and more revealing, even as the view from his lens gets smaller, closer, almost two-dimensional in its oddball tableaux.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com.
Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.