In Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's first live action film since The Fantastic Mr. Fox, his stop-motion animation offering, the director has created one of the most artful and inventive movies in many moons about the crazy, throbbing pulse of first love and how piteous the fool who stands in its way.
It holds some of its predecessor's paradoxical mix of roughness and whimsy; in fact, some of the set pieces look like miniatures the Fox family could frolic upon. But it's entirely too human to be considered cartoonish.
Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who, as the film opens, has escaped from his Khaki Scout camp on a New England island in the 1960s. In fact, he's left a resignation letter for his befuddled scoutmaster, Randy Ward (Edward Norton), who gathers his troops and calls in local law enforcement, Captain Sharp (a dryly humorous Bruce Willis), who really doesn't have anything to do anyway.
Sam's adventerous plot began a year before when he espied Suzy (Kara Hayward), a precociously mature tween dressed as a raven for a community theater production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Arc opera Noye's Fludde. (The opus is no accident; a narrator tells us in the opening scene that the story takes place on the cusp of an historic freak storm.) It was love at first sight and now they've resolved to create a makeshift love nest, away from all the distractions of their self-defined tortured lives, with barely enough supplies - overdue library books, a record player, binoculars, and a cast-iron skillet - to last a night, much less the 10 days they've planned.
Suzy's parents, Laura and Walt, are both tort-obsessed lawyers, are kind of estranged (the movie's darkest scene even hints that she's physically abusive to him) and played by two of the best actors in their age group, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. Seemingly everyone in town, with the exception of the two missing kids who don't want to be found, perceives that the search and rescue will mean something more than the fact of their recovery.
In nearly every shot, Anderson (who co-wrote the bright screenplay with Roman Coppola) is fastidiously attuned to symmetry, depth, and composition. And he places his actors accordingly; they're utilized like props yet never are - they're too animated, real and funny. It's a delightful, spirited and beautiful movie that finds Anderson at the top of his game.