So many movies are about a loss of innocence. A main character faces trials and tribulations, and their eyes are opened to the cruelty of the world before they overcome it. Moonrise Kingdom, the seventh movie by director Wes Anderson, is definitely not that sort of story. The film teaches a lesson through the positives in life. For Anderson, that’s something new. He’s rebelling against loss of innocence, and discovering it instead.

Anderson’s past films have all hinged on a cynical point of view: Max Fischer flipping the bird, Richie Tenenbaum attempting suicide, Steve Zissou hunting sharks. Even the fantastic Mr. Fox is, on the surface, a thief. Rarely is true innocence Anderson’s chief focus.

But with Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson uses his signature visual cues and oddball sense of humor to tell a story that completely lacks cynicism and is almost palpably sweet. It’s a step forward for the filmmaker. However, by entering this new territory, the balance between message and humor, so expertly handled in his previous films, shifts ever so slightly. Read more after the jump.

Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are troubled 12-year-olds who happen to live on the same small New England island of New Penzance. After a long courtship, the kids decide to run away together, creating quite the panic for Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), the island sheriff (Bruce Willis) and Suzie’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). As Sam and Suzie are hunted by their friends and family, they realize what some people consider deficiencies make them a perfect match. We witness the development of a simple, straight forward love story that will ultimately inspire everyone around them.

That kind-hearted, positive message is all over Moonrise Kingdom, but it doesn’t fully mesh with Anderson’s trademarks. His locked camera angles, direct mode of address, drawings, and funny asides are used in service of this inspirational tale of young love, but at times create a dichotomy that’s awkward in a way Anderson hasn’t intended. One example would be a showdown between Sam, Suzy and his fellow Khaki Scouts. It’s funny, surprising, but builds character in a way that doesn’t exactly service the story.

Anderson has adapted his usual fare quite nicely on the soundtrack, though. Gone is the usual bevy of pop songs, replaced instead by a score from Alexandre Desplat and an array of classical music. The score gives the film the ethereal feeling of floating on a cloud, much like Sam and Suzy likely feel.

All the adults in Moonrise Kingdom also share a bit of that aloofness and it seems as if Anderson is saying, at 12, kids have all the answers and adults really don’t know what they’re doing. Which leads to another minor quibble with Moonrise Kingdom. While the film is undoubtedly touching and nice with plenty of wit and humor, Anderson’s nostalgic perspective of childhood feels too idealistic. It’s the work of a man discovering a new fondness for youth. While some audiences are sure to eat up this view of growing up, I still relate more to the cynical Anderson: Max Fisher flipping the bird, Richie Tenenbaum attempting suicide or Steve Zissou hunting sharks.

That said, in the increasingly impressive and exciting oeuvre of Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is a welcome and worthy addition. Seeing him evolve as a filmmaker has never been so enjoyable, even if he’s still finding his way.

/Film Rating 8 out of 10

Note: The end credits of Moonrise Kingdom just might be the most magical since Wall-E. There’s no big Nick Fury reveal, but if you enjoyed the film, stay for the credits. Anderson took special care with them.

Moonrise Kingdom opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 25th and expands throughout the country this June.

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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