It’s the summer of 1965 on the small, sleepy island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in Wes Anderson’s return to live action after his “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The film opens on a quaint lighthouse home, and we’re given a tour as a camera moves around laterally perfectly framing different rooms and introducing us to the Bishop family. And with this is a boy narrating the parts of an orchestral piece announcing the addition of each new instrument. In a sense, Anderson’s latest feature plays in this style of a building symphony. More parts and flourishes get added and added until it crescendos to a grand and beautifully tumultuous finale. That’s without even mentioning Alexandre Desplat’s score which, in its own right, mirrors the symphony theme wonderfully.
The story centers around a blossoming young love between two precocious 12-year-olds. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a nerdy orphan scout, and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), is the troubled daughter of her family who’s otherwise occupied with three younger boys. Her parents, played with effortless deadpan nuance by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, are distracted with their own marital malaise. It’s one morning when Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) finds Sam’s tent empty and discovers from a written note the boy has ran away. And when the local cop, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), gets involved in the disappearance, the Bishops realize their daughter has run away with the boy.
The children are no-nonsense about their plan. They look each other squarely in the eyes without blinking and tell each other how they feel, how dedicated they are to the other — Suzy with her heavy, blue eye shadow and Sam behind his black, thick-rimmed glasses. Running away from home in such a small setting is absurd, especially considering it’s an island. But the fanciful nature of their journey is the idea behind it, the dreams it holds for these displaced children. Meanwhile they’re being relentlessly pursued by adults, notably Social Services — not the organization, but one severe-looking woman played by Tilda Swinton.
Expertly shot by longtime collaborator Robert Yeoman, he knows Anderson’s classic style inside and out. The movie is shot straight-on with each scene meticulously propped and detailed as to look like a vintage still photograph. The miniature look to each setting, as well, is reminiscent of Mr. Fox’s underground animal dwelling. And no Anderson film would be complete without the appearance of Jason Schwartzman, although both Wilson brothers are conspicuously absent.
Some people may find it irritating that this is very much a Wes Anderson film. I used to be one of those people. “Moonrise Kingdom,” however, contains a newfound emotional undercurrent. In evolving and perfecting his technical mastery, he’s infusing it with new elements creating a deft and rich blend of humanism and surrealism. Among all the magic and whimsy, there’s a sorrowful look at childhood, the spirit and hopefulness of youth, the adventurous spirit and the ever-present potential for it to get lost in passing time and age.