Wes Anderson, famous for building his films like self-contained dioramas, has probably outdone himself with Moonrise Kingdom, inventing the fictional island of New Penzance and populating it with characters whose clothes, dialogue, and even choices in eye makeup seem designed to Anderson's precise specifications. Though the film's main characters are two children-- Sam (Jared GIlman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward)-- who have fallen in love and run away together, their actions are as precise and constrained as the puppets of Anderson's previous film The Fantastic Mr. Fox. There's real heart and the longing of adolescence in there, but you've got to be willing to buy into Anderson's many tics-- and that might be too high a hurdle for some.
On a second viewing I was still more drawn in by the adult side of the story, even though the grown-ups of New Penzance Island spend most of the story running around like crazy while the kids are the only ones who know what's up. Edward Norton gives his best performance in years as Scout Master Ward, head of a troop of Khaki Scouts who go on a rescue mission when one of their own-- Gilman's Sam-- goes missing. Joining the search party are Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a pair of lawyers who have grown distant in their marriage, and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), who has been carrying on an affair with Suzy's mom. All the adult actors except Murray (and Tilda Swinton, who eventually shows up as the fearsome Social Services) are newcomers to Anderson's hermetic world, and all slip into the arch dialogue marvelously, feeling like human beings who just happen to live in a universe very unlike ours.
The kids, on the other hand, feel like normal kids who become unnaturally restrained. Sam and Suzy's deep love for each other is established in a nice montage of letter-writing to each other, and when they escape to the beachfront campground they dub "Moonrise Kingdom," their tentative conversations and awkward bonding moments feel sweet and true. But when they run off to get unofficially married toward the end of the film, it takes their honest, childlike love and makes it something artificially bigger for the sake of a larger ending for the film. There are great moments of honesty sprinkled throughout Moonrise Kingdom, especially in the way both Scout Master Ward and Willis's Captain Sharp try to act as mentors to the orphaned Sam, but a lot of moving pieces of plot to drown it all out as well.
Alexandre Desplat's gorgeous score, mixed with recordings from the composer Benjamin Britten, remains one of the film's highlights, as does occasional narration from Bob Balaban, dressed like an old sea captain and providing both detail about the plot and ominous warnings of the coming storm that makes up the film's final set piece. Like all of Anderson's films, Moonrise Kingdom has the kind of confidence that no other filmmaker can match, and it's always a pleasure to slip inside his little world. But even on second viewing, Moonrise Kingdom doesn't have enough emotional rewards to go along with the impeccable design.
Though the Blu-ray release of Moonrise Kingdom comes with the DVD and digital copy and options for Ultraviolet viewing in the cloud, the actual bonus features are pretty disappointingly slim. The featurette "A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom" is just three minutes long, and squeezes in interviews with the cast, behind-the-scenes footage of Anderson in his trademark corduroy suit, and a little bit of narration from Bill Murray-- all good things presented far too quickly.
Same goes for "Welcome to New Penzance Island," a series of featurettes narrated by Bob Balaban and focusing on four of the main players from the film-- Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Wes Anderson. The featurettes are shot as if they're from Anderson himself, with the film's music and style used perfectly, but they're incredibly brief and not especially insightful. And all of them were released online before the movie's release-- in fact, you can watch them here.
The highlight of the bonus features is probably the set tour led by Bill Murray, if only because he's such an odd and consistently unpredictable presence, and you want to hear pretty much anything that comes out of his mouth. It, again, is just three minutes long. What I wouldn't give for a commentary narrated by this oddball.
All of Anderson's previous features except for The Fantastic Mr. Fox have gotten lavish releases through the Criterion Collection, complete with commentaries and more extensive featurettes. I would assume the same will happen for Moonrise Kingdom, so if you're looking for more insight into the director's mind and the process of making the film, you might want to hold out for that release.