“Moonrise Kingdom” inspired several bouts of nervous laughter in the theatre when I saw it, mostly during the scenes of Suzy and Sam dancing in their underwear. But the most audible squirming was occasioned by Snoopy’s death; the shot showing the dog impaled and inert elicited a shocked, yelping exhale from many people in the audience. That shock then turned to tittering at the children’s frank appraisal, and, then, taking in the scene as a whole, a kind of unsettled admiration—from me at least. Anderson had broken one of Hollywood’s biggest taboos: he offed the dog.
One of MOONRISE KINGDOM’s minor pleasures is the way it uses the Bruce Willisness of Bruce Willis while at the same time diminishing him to human status, a small town cop trapped in an unhappy adulterous relationship, dismissed as dumb and sad even by children. Yet by the climax he’s doing DIE HARD stuff with ropes and dangling and high places and exploding buildings, and it’s delightful.
Social Services (Tilda Swinton) wears dark blue, a matching trouser suit, cape and bonnet, traditionally denoting wisdom and authority. Yet her authority is misguided; instead police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) ultimately comes to Sam’s rescue – the uniformed protector in white. Nonetheless these are mere observations; there are no absolutes or strictly held ideals in a Wes Anderson film, apart from perhaps the pursuit of happiness. You get out of his pictures what you are willing to put in. The more you look, the more you see.
In addition to learning their lines, many of the kids had to pick up more obscure skills. Charlie Kilgore, who plays Lazy Eye, underwent four weeks of intensive bugle training; he calls the instrument "unforgiving". Lucas Hedges, who plays Redford, took motorcycle-riding lessons, which were made all the more difficult because the film's vintage model required "20 things to be turned on at once to make it go." Jared had to learn how to handle a canoe, cook over an open fire, and shoot an air rifle. The hardest task, though? "Flipping a fish in a pan as I was cooking it."
There’s another layer of sound that’s unique to many of Anderson’s films: the drumming, always provided by composer and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. "Drumming is a way to kind of have music without having music, sort of just give it a beat and give it some atmosphere," says Anderson. "Scouting has a kind of military feeling and I think it was really just as simple as trying to find a sound to capture that."
Given its own tendency to inventory things like what Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jara Gilman) bring along with them during their escape into the woods, Moonrise Kingdom constantly invites analysis even though Anderson himself (understandably) tends to be vague about his creative process in his interviews. He claims that the genesis of the movie came from a period when he fell in love at approximately age 11. He scarcely spoke to the object of his affection (who remains nameless), so Moonrise Kingdom constitutes what he wished had happened, in other words, a "memory of a fantasy." He augments that fantastic element by having Suzy carry imaginary books in her suitcase, and by setting the story in 1965 on an imaginary island which one could only reach by ferry from the mainland. Anderson blends together the real (a Westinghouse refrigerator) with the imaginary (the Khaki Scouts) throughout the movie, and the effect could become coy and twee very easily, but Anderson's clear-headed emphasis on the detail keeps the movie grounded. Moonlight Kingdom is often dreamy but never vague, and the complexity of each shot keeps teasing the viewer with hints of deeper layers of interpretation.
But sometimes you stick with a director because, despite his blind spots and fetishes, you believe in him. Something about what he once did lingers in this perfect, permanent way. You’re tattooed. So movie after movie you wait. He’s come so close so often that it’s only a matter of time until he figures out how to do it, how to be the director he promised to become. “Moonrise Kingdom” is Anderson’s seventh movie, and it’s the first since “Rushmore” that works from the opening shot to the final image.
Anderson’s partisans think he’s already figured it out, that he was getting stronger. It’s not true. When, oh when, would he combine his aesthetic obsessions (the francophilia, the Americana, the prep-schoolery), with his natural wit and the heart you assume he had? I love the meticulous diorama framing and the hoisting, pivoting, dumbwaitered, nearly hydraulic camerawork. I would even tolerate the dollhouse framing. I just didn’t want the dolls. I wanted Anderson to show me a soul. “Moonrise Kingdom” does that.
The achievement here is the marriage of that resonant pathos with Anderson’s peerless sense of graphic design. You see all his influences – the French movies and Norman Rockwell, to start with – and you know he’s seen those films and paintings and wanted desperately to climb inside them. Anderson inspires the same gluttonous spectatorship. You want to eat his movies. You want to wear them. That used to be all he had – this meticulous style and clubby approach to ensemble work that managed only to keep you out. We could spectate, but we couldn’t feel much. The movies were all influence – wallpaper without any walls. Now, when Bob Balaban narrates “Moonrise Kingdom” while striking poses in duck-boots and a wool coat the color of marinara sauce, you want to flip to that page in the catalog. It’s an affectation, but with a little regional magic.
At one point they actually take an inventory in front of us so you can see all the ingredients. Yeah. You know, in fact, I remember that we were, we, Roman and I were working and we sort of said I think she's got a suitcase. Let's figure out what's in it. And we decided what is in it is - the thing we thought about her character is that she is a big reader and we were seeing a certain kind of 12-year-old girl we felt we had known. And so we decided to fill it with library books, which end up being stolen, you know, she's stolen library books. But that's a sort of, we then made the books. You know, I sort of wrote a little paragraph of text that from each book because she reads them and then we had different artists draw the covers and we sort of invented this little series of books and she's caring around. And over the course of that I sort of started thinking that the movie ought to feel like it could be in that suitcase and could be one of these young adult fantasy books.