Moonrise Kingdom


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The year is 1965. Two pre-teen misfits, one of each gender, become close pen pals. They eventually decide to meet and run away together. Their journey is not an easy one since they live on a New England island with no paved roads. The boy is an experienced scout, however, so he leads the way, and brings everything necessary for wilderness survival. The girl, on the other hand, is an impractical dreamer who shows up in her Sunday school shoes and brings only a few items of clothing, her six favorite books, her kitten, her ubiquitous binoculars and a battery-powered record player.

The story follows their budding relationship and the attempts of the adult world to locate their "Moonrise Kingdom," which is what they call the campsite they establish on a lovely tidal inlet in late summer. The adults are distressed not only by the implications of the kids' precocious sexuality, but also by the fact that New England is about to be hit by the storm of the century, and the kids are oblivious to their peril.

Certain directors have a style so distinctive that one can watch only a few minutes of their movies before saying "This must be a ________ movie." We don't have many of those people any more. Most of today's biggest directors hide their own voices and completely adapt their approach to the material in their current project. There's no such thing as a typical Spielberg movie, or a typical Soderbergh, Eastwood, Fincher, Verhoeven, Cameron, Scorsese, etc. On the other hand, we can still hear distinctive voices when we leave the realm of the blockbusters. Woody Allen's films seem to be more generic than in years past, but the dialogue still retains Woody's special cadences. Other classic auteurs who still leave their marks on every scene include Aronofsky, Mike Leigh, Gondry, Tim Burton ...

... and Wes Anderson.

Anderson's films are easily identified by his gentle, offbeat humor, his eccentric families, his magic realism, his rich palette, the inevitable deadpan expressions he requires from his actors, and his ensemble casts which always seem to include Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Anderson's efforts are not just distinctive films, but good ones as well. Yes, he's a weirdly creative dude, but he's also a very talented one with a good heart. None of his films are rated below 7.0 at IMDb, and this particular one is rated 8.3 (in the top 250 of all time), a highly positive evaluation supported by 94% of the critics.

I agree completely with those lofty appraisals. There's really not a weak scene or character in this film, and the film's dramatic tension is created without any broadly conceived antagonists or cartoon characterizations of evil. There are times when we dislike some of the adults and some of the boy's fellow scouts, but in the end we get to see them as people who are capable of reaching out to others with understanding. The kids are brilliant in their roles. Every one of the adults is fascinating and absolutely unique. No character is generic; no characterization is perfunctory. Anderson takes the time to make every role distinctive, and his usual repertory cast is ably supported by superstars Bruce Willis and Edward Norton as two meek doofuses who eventually reveal unsuspected depths of courage and compassion.

Anderson's attention to detail is amazing. While his characters are not especially true-to-life, at least not to OUR life, they are completely distinct, and their lives are so richly detailed that they seem utterly credible within their own universe. Anderson enjoys creating every last detail of his realms, and the people are only one aspect of that. The depth of his creativity is illustrated by the girl's six favorite books. None of those books exist in our world, but Anderson created them from scratch in detail, and they come complete with plot summaries, book jackets with pictures of fake authors, and even long passages to be read aloud. The books are just one example of Anderson's creative process. One could write essays about the detailed geography he created for the fictional island locale, or about the various ersatz merit badges and insignia worn by the fictitious "khaki scouts." He could have used books from the real world, or the real insignia of the boy scouts, but he obviously enjoys creating and controlling every aspect of his universe, so that it resembles ours, but is not quite the same. That slight difference gives him a lot of latitude to add his quirky humor to his stories.

It's an odd little film, but tender, and brilliantly done. In a world filled with sequels and comic book adaptations, I would love to see a pure cinema offering like this to get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. This is the sort of inventive, original work which makes use of the unique capabilities of the film medium, and we should celebrate it as we once celebrated the power of the best literary inventions.

DVD/Blu-Ray combo


3.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
84 (of 100)


8.3 IMDB summary (of 10)
3.5 Yahoo Movies (of 5)


Box Office Mojo. It grossed $45 million in only 900 theaters. It reached as high as #7 on the weekly lists, and stayed in the top 25 for about three months.


  • Oh, in my rhapsody to the left, I almost forgot to mention that Anderson somehow managed to sneak a Frances McDormand topless scene into the opening credits! (Although nobody really seems to have noticed it.)



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


I want to rate it so much higher, but the reality is that it is a "love it or hate it" kind of film and I just happen to love it. Many of the comments at Yahoo Movies call it a dreadful, arty-farty bore.