It may be stating the obvious to say that director Wes Anderson, who brought us such dark comedies as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, has gotten cute as of late. It was only three years ago that his stop-motion animal adventure film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was released. You really can’t get much cuter than stop-motion animated animals who look like characters from Richard Scarry’s “Busy Town” being voiced by the likes of George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, and Willem Dafoe. The movie toed that line of introducing kids to indie films while entertaining indie nerds the world over. If I had kids, I would have made them watch it. Instead, I harassed my younger sister to watch it to no avail.
Now I have a new rule: don’t try to cubbyhole Wes Anderson. He’ll just push the envelope, which he did, the envelope of cuteness in Moonrise Kingdom.
Moonrise Kingdom, at its basest level, is a story about the innocence and matter-of-factness of young love. The valiant, young, orphaned Khaki Scout, Sam Shakusky(played by Jared Gilman) runs away with his first love, the silently rage-filled Suzy Bishop(played by Kara Hayward) into the unpaved wilderness of New Penzance Island. For the short time they are alone together, the couple survive with Sam’s scouting skills and Suzy’s evening entertainment of reading from her fantasy books and listening to her records on her brother’s “borrowed” portable record player. Hot in pursuit of the duo is: Scout Master Randy Ward(played by Edward Norton) and the rest of the Khaki Scout troop; Walt and Laura Bishop(played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Suzy’s odd parents; Captain Sharp(played by Bruce Willis), New Penzance Island’s only law enforcement official; and Narrator(played by Bob Balaban), the island’s historian, cartographer, and the guy who seems to be making a documentary in real-time.
The story is half romance, half children’s adventure, which begins the use of the word “cute” to describe Wes Anderson’s latest, but it isn’t a bad cute, or an overly cheesy cute. It’s just written and shot cute. The cutest thing is watching Sam and Suzy act like a caricature of a normal adult couple. It’s not that they act like their parents, considering Suzy’s are dysfunctional and Sam’s are dead. It doesn’t even feel like acting. They just respond to each other like little, oblivious adults, which is really what adolescents are.
Luckily, the cuteness is cut with the dark family-based humor that Wes Anderson is known before: the Khaki Scouts out for blood in their hunt for Sam; Bill Murray drunk and shirtless with an axe; a character that works for Social Services named Social Services; the heart-to-heart discussion between Sam and Captain Sharp. All of these thematic interludes help keep the movie cute and nostalgic, but add in an adult element that makes the movie more real. Uncomfortably real, in fact, but still humorous.
I give this movie 4 out of 5 portable record players, which I never owned as an 80s child, but understand the nostalgic undertones behind it.