Moonrise Kingdom


Written by Kate Kelsall
23 Wednesday 23rd May 2012

New Penzance, an isolated car-free island exposed to the elements and stuck in what feels like forties retro-mania, is a world unto itself nestled somewhere in the hinterlands between nostalgic middle America, an idyllic view of growing up and Anderson’s unique imaginative fantasy. An Instagrammer's vintage heaven.

Against this backdrop, orphaned khaki scout Sam Skakusky and upper class but troubled Suzy Bishop, run away from the world of defunct adults and faulty homes into the wild. As they arrive at the cove they christian ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and declaring "This is our land", our spirits soar as they share their first kiss and dance semi-clothed to the impeccable choice of Francoise Hardy’s ‘Le Temps de L’Amour’.

Hot in pursuit are a gambit of exquisitely executed characters. We have Edward Norton as a incompetent Scout master (his khaki shorts are just too much and will have you in stitches every time he graces the screen) with his troop of militant boy scouts; Bruce Willis as a not-so-hard-now copper; and Bill Murray as Suzy’s pathetically alcoholic and self-deprecating father. And these are just the highlights of an all star cast which also includes Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel.

Haters will accuse this film of being too heavily ‘directed’ and meticulously crafted - Anderson's directorial approach bordering on dictatorial. However with a touch as distinctive and refreshing as his, I see no objection to his omnipresence. Sure his intense aestheticism may be formulaic, but it works and furthermore it’s still exciting and streets ahead of all his imitators. In fact, where many critics have found this offering particularly depthless, lacking the emotional punch of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, I relished Anderson’s signature surreal artificiality.

Of course it lacks profundity, it is about first love and personalities just finding their feet. The deadpan and somewhat stilted dialogue between Sam and Suzy is as charming as it is hilarious. We laugh at their sincerity with killer lines delivered with aplomb such as “I love you, but you don’t know what you are talking about” and “Was he a good dog? / Who’s to say, but he didn’t deserve to die”. But is this simply adult life parodied, made ironic by naivety, or something more poignant?

They take themselves seriously and why shouldn’t we? Cynics - remember your childhood, where molehills really were mountains. The inspired use of Benjamin Britten for the soundtrack aids this conviction, lending a strain of high drama that is comic and beautiful at the same time. Anderson takes you inside a dolls house to remember what it’s like to be small and the result is magically moving, though it admittedly won’t stir grand emotions nor shake you to the core. It’s not trying too. 

By comparison Anderson’s adult world is portrayed as characteristically fucked – a mess of unattractive emotions ranging from melancholy, misplaced pride, self pity and despondency. There are truly tender and even tragic moments. Loveless Mr and Mrs Bishop lie in separate beds lamenting their lack lustre lives, culminating in a painfully morose exchange - "We are all [our kids] have / It isn’t nearly enough". The film muses whimsically on the fractured nature of human relations and tugs at the heartstrings, even if does so rather gently. 

Wes Anderson’s films are arty marmite and if you didn’t like him before, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t likely to sway you. It isn’t realistic or even real, but it conjures something of the essence of childhood that will surely appeal to anyone who remembers what it was like to be young. Moreover it is a visually beautiful feast that makes you laugh at the folly that life is. Despite being intricate and intelligent, its fancy free frivolity makes it light-hearted and joyful to behold.

Moonrise Kingdom is out in cinemas now.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.