Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13) ★★★½

(L to R) Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, and Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop in Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM, a Focus Features release.</p>
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<div class=(L to R) Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, and Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop in Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM, a Focus Features release.
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Newcomers Shine in Anderson’s Kingdom

In the world of music, singer/songwriters generally provide my favorite performances. I feel that being the creator of the song, knowing it from deep within their minds and souls, gives the singer a leg up on the delivery of the song. I find this is also proving to be true with movies, or at least in the case of a Wes Anderson movie. So far, Anderson has been both screenwriter and director for each of his movies, all critically acclaimed, including the Oscar nominated films “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The trend continues with Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Roman Coppola, who co-wrote “The Darjeeling Limited,” teamed up with Anderson once again in writing the “Moonrise Kingdom” script. This production has all the attention to detail we’ve come to expect in Anderson’s films and may well be his best effort to date. It has many of the same elements of his previous works, including the renowned family discord and the proverbial ill-fitting square pegs, but this one tones down the pessimism and adds more heart and a touch of sweetness. These factors combined with the fact that it’s steeped in nostalgia are bound to broaden the audience appeal for “Moonrise Kingdom,” which is entertaining throughout.

Set in 1965 on the small, fictional, East coast island of New Penzance, the film centers on two 12 year olds perceived as misfits, Sam and Suzy, who share a kindred spirit so powerful that they run away together. This causes much havoc and concern for the adults in their lives, including Suzy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand), Sam’s Khaki Scout leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and the island’s police chief, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Mr. Bishop views Suzy’s disappearance differently, noting that, “My daughter has been abducted by one of those beige lunatics.”

Other than Anderson’s first feature film, “Bottle Rocket,” Murray has appeared in each of Anderson’s subsequent movies, beginning with “Rushmore.” Murray and Anderson go together like peanut butter and jelly and, as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” McDormand and Norton seem like a natural fit for the unorthodox characters that Anderson is known for and they did not disappoint. On the other hand, prior to seeing the film, Willis seemed like an odd choice given his professional history in action roles. Not to worry – he manages to slip into the role of Captain Sharp with razor precision.

Since Sam is a foster child, Social Services also gets involved. In this case, however, we are not talking about an agency but rather a person (Oscar winner Tilda Swinton) whose name seems to be Social Services. Her demeanor is such that she probably doesn’t deserve a real name; that would simply give a smidgen of warmth to the character. Adding to the chaos, a hurricane is approaching the little island that isn’t easily reached, unless you are able to hitch a ride with Jed the mailman in his small airplane.

Newbies Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were wisely chosen to play the pivotal roles of Sam and Suzy, respectively. Gilman, with his overbearing, plastic rimmed glasses, stirs visions of Corey Feldman’s Teddy Duchamp in “Stand By Me.” Unlike Teddy, Sam exudes confidence and seems to always be in charge. His actions have purpose. It’s no wonder he’s earned so many badges as a Khaki Scout, despite being an outcast among his peers. Hayward’s character is the older sister of three brothers and is distinguished by her parents as the troubled child. A lover of adventure books, Suzy dons heavy blue eye shadow and views the world mostly through a pair of binoculars that she keeps tethered around her neck. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that these two troubled children are in many ways wiser than the adults who care for them.

The world created by Anderson feels both real and imagined. For example, the opening scene, which tracks through the Bishop’s unusual lighthouse home, gives the feeling of being on a tour deep inside a quirky dollhouse that just happens to be full of people. Yet, at the same time, the film is immersed in the real McCoy of 1965, from Sam’s glasses and coonskin cap, to the pup tents of Troop 55, to the Hank Williams songs playing on the car radio. At times, the movie even appears to have been made in the mid-twentieth century, with its overlaid credits and fuzzy zoom shots. I assure you, if you are old enough to remember 1965, this movie will bring back a rush of memories.

Wes Anderson movies are a breed of their own and, although distinctive, it can be difficult to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes them so unique. For one thing, he is inspired by visual images, sometimes building entire scripts around sketches in his mind. This helps to explain his attention to detail in every shot. The production notes for “Moonrise Kingdom” seem to have summed it up well by stating that Anderson’s films “combine a grown-up seriousness with pure make believe.”

The soundtrack is remarkably well matched to the era and the story, from start to finish. Viewers will definitely want to stay put for the ending credits, as the superbly selected music will ensure an additional few minutes of a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

One more musical observation I have to make: I have to wonder, is there any connection between the lead characters’ names and the song, “Muskrat Love,” made popular in 1976 by The Captain and Tennille? I immediately thought of the song when I heard the names Suzy and Sam. Once home, I looked up the lyrics, which increased my curiosity. If ever given the opportunity to interview Anderson, that will be my first question.

Bottom Line: The top-notch cast, veterans and newcomers alike, gives this delightful coming of age story the respect and high regard it deserves.

Cast: Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bill Murray (Mr. Bishop), Frances McDormand (Mrs. Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jared Gilman (Sam), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Bob Balaban (the Narrator)

Credits: Directed by Wes Anderson, Original screenplay written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.

Studio: Focus Features

Run Time: 94 minutes

Written by Tyna S. Cline © May 30, 2012