WES ANDERSON, god bless him, just keeps making Wes Anderson movies. As expected, Moonrise Kingdom is mannered, precious, nostalgic, and twee—and it's also about as good a movie about childhood as an adult is capable of making.
Anderson flirts with self-parody during the first half hour of his new film, set on a tiny island off the coast of New England in the 1960s. In Moonrise's opening scene, the camera charts a painstaking course through the Bishop household, full of solemn children and unhappy adults; every shot is a period-perfect diorama, carefully posed. Elsewhere on the island, a troupe of Khaki Scouts, led by a surpassingly endearing Edward Norton, approach the business of summer camp with utter seriousness. (The elaborate outdoor latrine they've constructed works perfectly.)
But Moonrise Kingdom's protagonists don't fit into these tidily organized worlds—and neither, it turns out, does anyone else. Sullen Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), in perma-Margot Tenenbaum eye makeup, is prone to fits of rage, while Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan whose fellow scouts just don't like him much. When the two run away together, heading into the woods and determined to start a new life on their own, Moonrise's prim little vistas start to expand: It's an adventure, a love story, and even a thriller of sorts as the islanders launch a search party for the missing children in the face of a mounting storm.
Moonrise's best scenes take place in the woods, as Suzy and Sam get to know each other while navigating rivers, rock walls, and the Khaki Scouts on their trail. Sam proves an able if slightly overzealous guide, full of tips both useless (suck on a pebble if you're thirsty) and handy (he ferries their gear across a river via an elaborate pulley system). An inventory of Suzy's possessions reveals a more artistic, less practical soul: She's packed a record player, a kitten, and a suitcase full of books.
The island's adults, meanwhile, are hardly role models. Suzy's parents sleep in separate beds, and her mother (Frances McDormand) shares the occasional clandestine cigarette with a local police officer. The cast is great across the board—including a hilarious, de rigueur appearance from a sad-sack Bill Murray—but Bruce Willis stands out as the gentle, maybe-kinda-stupid policeman.
Moonrise's crucial insight is that there's nothing fun about most of the games children play: from tree houses and board games to first forays into young love, it's all serious business to the kids involved. Moonrise Kingdom is utterly true to that seriousness, and to the high-stakes intensity of childhood—and the result counts among Anderson's best work to date.