Moonrise Kingdom: A World Of Pure Imagination

Moonrise Kingdom

2012 | 94 minutes | Dir. Wes Anderson | Focus Features


Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson’s 7th film.  It tells the tale of Sam and Suzy, two emotionally troubled twelve- year- olds who run away together on the eve of New England’s most destructive meteorological event of the second half of the twentieth century.  It takes place on the fictional island of New Penzance in 1965.


Sam (Jared Gilman) is an unpopular Khaki Scout under the not-so-watchful eye of Scoutmaster Ward at Fort Lebanon.  Orphaned and abandoned by his foster family, Sam plots to run away and carve out his own Moonrise Kingdom. One year prior, he meets Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) at a church production of Noah’s Aarke.  Suzy is a similarly deranged preteen with bright blue eyeshadow and Sunday School shoes.  The two become pen pals and plan their escape.  They execute their plot perfectly, until the young lovers are discovered and sent on the run.  They are hotly pursued by Police Officer Sharp (Bruce Willis), Suzy’s haphazard lawyer parents (Francis McDormand and Bill Murray), Khaki Scout Troop 55, and Social Services (Tilda Swinton).

Sam & Suzy
Sam & Suzy, Troubled Youth

Moonrise Kingdom has been called Anderson’s best film to date.  I would have to argue, since I completely adore The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Let’s say it’s his best live- action film to date.  Moonrise Kingdom is charming, funny, sweet, quirky, and imaginative.

The film features music by classical composer Benjamin Britton, accented with original score by Alexandre Desplat, who also scored Fox.  Almost every scene has music playing.

The cinematography mixes Anderson’s signature quirk with European movies of the 1960’s. At times the film plays like a live- action version of the stop- motion Fantastic Mr. Fox, complete with campy special effects and tree houses.

Troop 55 plans atop a precarious perch
Troop 55 plans atop a precarious perch

The film has all of Anderson’s signatures:  pop culture references, highbrow humor, wacky vintage props, awkwardly framed shots, Bill Murray. Edward Norton gives a great performance as Scoutmaster Ward.  I feel like it’s the only time this century Norton has been properly cast. The child actors are all deliciously deadpan, just like Anderson’s favorite veterans.  Anderson’s fans will not be disappointed, and newcomers will be enchanted.

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis  (from left to right) star as adults.
Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis (from left to right) star as adults.

I commend Mr. Anderson for making a movie about children without tarnishing childhood innocence.  Moonrise Kingdom never gets immature or inappropriate.  I feel like many adult movies about children these days place kids in horrific real- world situations (Hound Dog, Beasts of the Southern Wild) or exploit the underground world of adolescent drug use and sexuality (Son of Rambow, Thirteen).  Moonrise Kingdom does neither, as it is obviously neither based in reality nor interested in mature subject matter (although parents be warned:  Sam smokes a pipe).   Anderson merely creates a whimsical tale of love and adventure where everything is make- believe, from the island to the story to the books the children read (Anderson wrote passages and commissioned artwork for six fictional books). Moonrise Kingdom shows us that the only grown- up who can top a child’s imagination is Anderson himself.


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