The Impeccably Cute Delightfulness of Stuff: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Moonrise Kingdom begins with a long take that scans the inside of a charming, seaside cottage. The shot begins aimed at a painting of just such a charming house and then swishes through the interior landing on the siblings who live there and some of their toys, a dollhouse, a record player, binoculars. The shot gives equal importance to the people and the props.

The space is just the type of enlarged dollhouse that Wes Anderson specializes in making cinematic. Remember the pan through the boat in The Life Aquatic or the delightful set pieces in The Fantastic Mr. Fox? Anderson shows the audience his fascination with the surface, with the impeccable charm of the everyday object — only in his films these props become almost mystical as their quirk is raised to high levels of importance.

Moonrise Kingdom follows two 12-year-old runaways who abscond into the wilderness of New Penzance island, an exotically American locale. This proves the ideal landscape for the love affair between Suzy, an inhabitant of that large dollhouse, and Sam, a boy scout who left his pup tent in tip-top shape before he skedaddled. Like all movie paramours, they encounter obstacles, not only from the grown-ups, parents, scout masters, social services and cops who search them out, but also due to the stuff they lug along with them.

Like most tweens, they are impractical when it comes to packing. Suzy brings a suitcase full of hardcover novels and that record player. Sam is laden with the “bric-a-brac” of scouting, which may seem convenient, but when it really comes down to brass tacks, how useful are neckerchiefs and raccoon caps?

But that’s just it, in an Anderson film, it’s all about the impeccably cute delightfulness of all that stuff. The characters become weighed down within that cuteness. Bob Balaban, as the narrator, is also a lightly salted islander dressed adorably in a red coat, knit cap and fingerless gloves that will probably show up at J. Crew this winter. It’s all in the details: Bruce Willis’ white socks and black shoes, peacock eye shadow and fishhook earrings, the elaborate camping contraptions at the scout sites, Harvey Keitel’s plaid scouting cape, the odd, but effective tilt of Tilda Swinton’s hat with its nervous chin strap.

These quirky, twee little details are just as important as the plot and the performances.

I propose a souvenir shoppe, also called “Moonrise Kingdom”, a kind of “pottery barn” filled with purchasable goods reproduced from the movie’s sets, props and costumes. Shop for wallpaper, dishware, cosmetics, doo-dads, vintage board games, and of course, all those novels — there must be someone out there who would be happy to write them. How about turquoise record players with that vintage look (perhaps with a hidden dock for iPods)? Also for sale: maps of New Penzance, scout uniforms as every day wear and camping paraphernalia (can be used for living room camp sites).

The new release on blu-ray seems much too modern a way to view this film. There should also be 16mm prints available to screen on “old” home movie projectors. Alas, 1965 is gone, but you can relive it as it never was in Moonrise Kingdom. Bonus features include enchanting but very short little docs narrated again by Bob Balaban in “Welcome to the Island of New Penzance”, where he points to a droll map of the fictional island. Also included are “A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom,” an elaborate commercial, and “Set Tour with Bill Murray”, which exists as described.

RATING 8 / 10


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