The story of two young and "mentally disturbed" lovers who run away from home during the summer of 1965, 'Moonrise Kingdom' packs all the wit and whimsy of director Wes Anderson's other work whilst also feeling entirely fresh. Everything is in keeping with his very deliberate and composed signature style, but some of it's been tilted slightly, adjusted just enough to let some air into the room. It's the same elaborate, four-poster bed you've enjoyed sleeping in several times up to now, but he's changed the sheets (or something metaphorical like that). The cinematography here, though still by long-serving Robert Yeoman, has a washed-out, almost instagram look, though each frame still bursts with bright colours and retains that children's book illustration look.
Music also plays a slightly different role here, moving away from chic 60s/70s alt-rock tunes and towards a unifying theme which subtly likens the ensemble cast to sections of an orchestra. Though regular composer Mark Mothersbaugh and music supervisor Randall Poster are still involved, Alexandre Desplat takes on main scoring duties following his work on the animated 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'. It's also perhaps his least dialogue driven of his films to date - the screenplay once again co-written with Roman Coppola still full of memorable lines, but with the storytelling often completely visual. At no point more so than at the film's emotionally charged climax, where the shot choices and movement of the camera are sublime.
The cast too has been shaken up very slightly. Though Bill Murray (in every film since 'Rushmore') and Jason Schwartzman are still on hand in small supporting parts, this is the first Wes Anderson movie not to involve at least one Wilson brother. As a sweet-natured scout master with a note of sadness behind the eyes, Ed Norton ably takes on the role which might otherwise have gone to Anderson's former writing partner Owen Wilson. The best of the new additions to Team Anderson is undoubtedly Bruce Willis, who underplays his role wonderfully, though Bob Balaban is also very funny as a sort of meteorologist-cartographer-narrator. These changes are signposted even before you get passed the credits by the very deliberate change in font from his beloved futura to something yellow, squiggly and italicised.
All the same preoccupations and stylistic flourishes are present though, from that one moment of expertly timed slow-mo to the tale of a dysfunctional family, populated by wounded and disappointed people struggling to connect. At times the young runaways - Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) - and their armed boy scout pursuers could be mistaken for members of the Max Fischer Players, mounting an ambitious production of 'The African Queen' by way of Lord of the Flies, as the film riffs on a 12 year-old version of pampered rich girl meets man of the earth on romantic wilderness adventure. Like all of Anderson's films to date it's earnestly kind without ever coming close to twee, and nostalgic without seeming kitsch or staid. There are moments of heart-breaking melancholy and times where the humour verges on black, but it's primarily an innocent and joyful experience.
Though I personally loved 'The Life Aquatic' and 'Darjeeling Limited', those films seemed to represent Anderson's movies becoming bigger and, to some extent, less tightly focused. The star-studded ensemble is no less eclectic here but 'Moonrise Kindom' instead feels stripped back somewhere closer to the simplicity and economy of 'Rushmore'. It's a change that's kept the director's formula from wearing thin, coming at the right moment. It's a film that makes Wes Anderson exciting again, as opposed to the master of an increasingly predictable framework (however lovely). I used to say that 'Bottle Rocket' was my favourite but conceded that 'The Royal Tenenbaums' was Anderson's most mature and accomplished film. 'Moonrise Kingdom' calls into question both ends of that statement.
'Moonrise Kingdom' is out now in the UK, rated '12A' by the BBFC.