Equal measures sweet and bittersweet, Moonrise Kingdom is nothing less than Wes Anderson's best film to date. Them's fighting words, for sure - proponents of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox are already rushing the stage - but whereas the idiosyncratic writer-director's previous six features were easy to like but difficult to love, this latest effort exudes a soothing warmth and a wide-eyed innocence that are hard to ignore. Co-written by Francis Coppola's son Roman, it brings to mind the title of one of Dad's own movies, One from the Heart.
Certainly, there's ample generosity of spirit throughout this 1960s-set story of Suzy and Sam (newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), two 12-year-olds who run away together while residing on a New England island. Prior to their great escape, Sam is a Boy Scout under the care of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) while Suzy lives with her eccentric parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and younger brothers. Once the pair go MIA, all of the adults, led by the police chief (Bruce Willis), spring into action, with even the film's voice-over narrator (Bob Balaban) dropping by to lend a hand!
Anderson's visual compositions are often astounding - they move beyond representing mere whimsical mimicry to channeling the dollhouse panoramas and Boys' Life directives that have fueled many a childhood fantasy - and the film's humor offers sly, knowing winks and jolting sight gags alike.
Among the all-stars, Norton made me repeatedly chuckle, and it's always a pleasure to see Willis when he's not operating in paycheck-whore mode. Yet Hayward and Gilman are the film's real trump cards, so natural and guileless that they make it all seem like child's play.