Wes Anderson has a specialized way of making movies, and he’s more than welcome to remain in his corner of idiosyncrasy because, well, he’s an outstanding filmmaker. Paying homage to the kid-lit books of yesteryear, “Moonrise Kingdom” is yet another cinematic trophy for Anderson’s crowded shelf of accomplishments -- an enormously lovely, hilarious, evocative adventure as viewed through the director’s prism of handmade splendor. Through repetition, Anderson has fine-tuned his vision, developing his habits and art of microscopic detailing to create a rich symphony of textures. “Moonrise Kingdom” also plugs into the glow of adolescent emotion with startling accuracy, keeping the picture gentle but also edgy, finding a tone of discovery that’s as potent for the characters as it is for the audience.
Fearing that Anderson shed the majority of his screen interests after the 2009 release of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” it’s a relief to discover the filmmaker is still rooting around in his steamer truck of an imagination. Those familiar with Anderson’s work since his debut with 1996’s “Bottle Rocket” will immediately recognize the helmer’s fingerprints all over the material, opening “Moonrise Kingdom” with an comprehensive look at the morning routine of Suzy’s family and the scouts, while the Narrator (Bob Balaban) acts as a tour guide to the far corners of New Penzance, sharing its treasures and history, warning us about the coming storm. With habitual camera moves and a drum-tight editorial rhythm, the feature commences much like Anderson’s previous efforts. However, that’s no criticism.
“Moonrise Kingdom” shares DNA with the rest of Anderson’s oeuvre, but the feature is truly its own experience, finding the director using the outdoors with greater concentration than ever before, recreating Boy Scout life with cinematic embellishment and nostalgia, collecting a team of restless young men who look to Scout Master Ward for leadership as they execute their chores, clad in highly decorated uniforms, taking refuge in a treehouse hundreds of feet off the ground. The island itself is also a richly defined supporting character, with exaggerated coastal architecture, a pronounced Native American history, and a population of miserable people finding the runaway situation shaking up their static lives. With meticulous cinematography by Robert Yeoman (a longtime Anderson collaborator), a stirring soundtrack of choral selections (adding to the already thick “Peanuts” atmosphere of the piece), and colorful cast of poker faces (including Tilda Swinton as a social services employee), “Moonrise Kingdom” may not introduce a radical new creative direction for Anderson, but it develops his fixations in an extremely satisfying manner, employing an inviting feel for exteriors that flavors the adventure superbly.
While flirting with design overload, Anderson manages to find a soul to “Moonrise Kingdom” that’s worth savoring, earnestly exploring the attraction shared between Suzy and Sam. As two pubescent individuals finding immediate attraction during a highly produced church musical, bonding over their tempestuous domestic status, Suzy and Sam are scripted beautifully by Anderson and Roman Coppola, with the filmmakers attentive to a sense of protection and discovery, especially out in the middle of nowhere, allowing the couple time to bare their souls to each other (newcomers Hayward and Gilman are terrific with deadpan delivery and pre-teen behaviors). There’s also a moderate amount of physical action, but “Moonrise Kingdom” keeps the relationship sweet and slightly disturbed, enjoying the feral nature of the twosome. Suzy is especially volatile, willing to defend her boyfriend with a pair of left-handed scissors -- the ultimate attack weapon in this strange world.
Leading with Suzy’s infatuation with young adult books about supernatural events, “Moonrise Kingdom” spins a little enchantment of its own, presenting an intricately layered frame, with background business, illustrations, and period details as important to Anderson as the performances, building a marvelous art project with a summer camp swing. I believe it’s now safe to consider Wes Anderson a filmmaker in the tradition of Woody Allen, using a sense of repetition as an extension of comfort, while subtly developing and contorting his imagination along the way, freeing himself from a sense of stagnancy that plagues similar directors. “Moonrise Kingdom” feels like paging through a remarkable story, stopping to survey the author’s superlative descriptions and attention to the tiniest fragments of heartbreak. It’s a treat to watch unfold, sweetened gorgeously by Anderson’s magical manner of thinking.