Opening with a typically melancholic credit sequence, we are introduced to the inhabitants of the island of New Penzance, an idyllic New England community in 1965. These include the Bishop family led by Walt and Laura, a pair of duelling attorneys played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand and their “troubled” teenage daughter Suzy, an excellent Kara Hayward. There is also the Island’s policeman Captain Sharp, played by Bruce Willis in fine form and a troop of scouts at Camp Ivanhoe led by Scout Master Ward, a hilariously earnest Edward Norton.
One fine morning, the Scout Master awakes to find that one of his charges has flown the coup in the night, in a funny scene reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption. We soon learn that the missing boy is a 12 year old orphan named Sam Shakusky who has disappeared off into the hinterland of the island. He has however not gone alone and is joined as a runaway by his lady love Kara Bishop, much to the chagrin of her father Walt. The pair have been pen pals since meeting the previous Summer at a church performance of Noye’s Fludde and have resolved to run away together to escape their uneasy family life. Sam has absconded with enough camping equipment to enable a nomadic existence while Kara has brought a stack of her favourite books and borrowed her brother’s record player. Together they set off for a secluded cove which they name Moonrise Kingdom.
Of course, they are soon captured by the good hearted Captain Sharp and the deputised scouts. Walt vows that the two shall never see each other again and social services in the form of Tilda Swinton are soon on their way to take young Sam into care. However fate in the form of an epic storm intervenes. Will the island survive its onslaught? Will Scout Master Ward lead his troop to safety? Will Sam and Kara be reunited or will he be dragged off to be a ward of the state? Time will tell.
Anderson has assembled another fine ensemble cast for this film. Each actor brings an undoubted love for the script and their character to the table. Bruce Willis gives his most nuanced performance in years and that’s a sentence I did not expect to write. Bill Murray plays what now seems to be a recurring performance as a cuckolded husband in Wes Anderson films, that together with Frances McDormand forms a loving if emotionally distant parent group. The real stars are the two young protagonists Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman who bring a self-assured maturity to their roles.
The real joy of the film is how Anderson, together with co-writer Roman Coppola has managed to capture the feel of a childhood summer which feels endless at the time and yet so quickly is overcome by a return to normalcy at Summer’s end. The attention to detail and the quirky eccentric nature of his work are spellbinding in my opinion.
It is Anderson’s most complete film and I think possibly his best live-action film to date. It, like so many of his previous films, manages to transport the viewer to a time and place that they really would like to visit in real life. This is the magic of cinema.