Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features; 2012)

By Adam Kennedy

I’m going to be honest; I didn’t expect much from this film. From a distance it looked like an arty version of the 1960 film Swiss Family Robinson: it debuted at Cannes Film Festival, it’s set on an island; it seem focussed on community and it even uses that grainy look lost from the decade. But I was misguided. Moonrise Kingdom may be one of the greatest films released in the last year, and it’s definitely in competition for an Academy Award.

The film was directed by Wes Anderson, who you may recognise from the adaptation of the children’s classic, Fantastic Mr Fox, from 2009. Mr Anderson is well known for his striking colour palette, made mostly of bold primary colours, a very methodical use of cinematography and powerful soundtracks of rock and folk music. And this film is very definitely a Wes Anderson film.

The film opens by letting you know exactly what it is: the first scene shows you an idyllic family house, a relic lost in time, overlaid with fitting classical music and interspersed by brief radio announcements from a young child. It sets the scene perfectly.

The script is brilliant. It’s almost perfect. Set in 1965on an isolated island called New Penzance, the film is about two runaway children in love. Every line is spoken with a definite knowledge of identity and every person fits in place like a jigsaw. These are not characters that use the events of the plot to convey a writer’s personal monologues. No, instead the characters speak with a distinct, and apt, dry humour.

The music, though, is the biggest achievement of this film. Composed by Benjamin Britten, classical ballads are woven in such perfect synchronisation with what’s going on on-screen that the film almost feels like one brilliant dance.

But the music never overstays its welcome. Whereas several films take the tried-and-tes

ted route of putting a background sound in just about every scene in an effort to ‘assist’ the viewer in how to feel about that particular moment, Moonrise Kingdom takes an all or nothing approach. When the music is playing, it’s the central focus and it’s amazing. But equally, when the focus is on the characters’ words, there is a complete lack of music that makes every line that much more effective. This contrast keeps the film constantly engaging, despite a minor lack of structure in the plot.

And contrast is ever present, from the overly friendly adults, who could be from Yogi Bear, to the emotionally repressed children who are stuck, it seems, in a forced nightmare.

Moonrise Kingdom is not a feel-good film. But it pretends to be. The entire way through, it lulls you into a false sense of childlike fantasy where two kids can run away and fall in love and have amazing adventures. But, without even a heads-up, it repeatedly reminds you that even fantasies have dark subtexts. I’m not saying that it’s inappropriate for children, if anything it’s more appropriate for children than it is for adults. But it doesn’t fall back on tropes such as friends or family being the key to happiness.

Moonrise Kingdom blew my expectations out of the water. However, no film is without flaw. I briefly mentioned earlier that the film lacks structure. Frequently the plot feels as if it doesn’t really know where it’s going. The conclusion such an obvious solution that I struggle to understand why it couldn’t have been implemented half an hour earlier. And the special effects, especially towards the end, are severely lacking in some places. There is one scene in particular where a scout leader jumps from a cabin right as it explodes into flame that looks like something a ten year old kid could do with windows movie maker.

But these minor issues don’t detract from the experience. I would recommend this film to anyone who misses the days of their childhood when they wanted everything to be an adventure.

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concern you that your daughter has just run away from home?”

“That’s a loaded question.”

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