Anyone with more than a passing interest in The Criterion Collection would be aware of the general commotion that occurs every couple of years when Criterion release their special edition of the Wes Anderson film before last. The whole process is always quite fascinating to follow on social media. The Criterion Collection is justifiably the most esteemed home video company in the world, renowned for not only the exceptional scope and quality of their releases, but also the time and effort that they put into packaging and supplements. As a result of the excellence of their work, the company has quite rightly built up their own rather zealous group of followers.
The Criterion Collection release every Wes Anderson movie in a packed special edition. For contractual and financial reasons, this will generally be about three years after the theatrical release date. However, the Criterion edition will contain such a wealth of new supplemental material that it is always the definitive release of the film. Subsequently this is always a much anticipated event amongst those with an affection for Wes Anderson films and for many followers of the Criterion Collection. However…
Wes Anderson is an extremely polarising figure amongst cinephiles, so mixed in amongst the excitement and praise for each new release there is always a disgruntled and vocal minority of Criterion Collection enthusiasts who feel that this company has somehow let them down (again). As with a lot of angry rants, many of them are quite entertaining and it’s always fun to have a scan over the various comments across every social media platform. It should also probably be noted that a lot of these people get hilariously and disproportionately angered over what they perceive to be bad cover art (that said the cover of Criterion’s release of The Brood not only contains a giant spoiler, but is also pretty awful).
Moonrise Kingdom is the latest Criterion Collection special edition release of a Wes Anderson film. This leaves 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel as the only Wes Anderson film not yet in the Criterion Collection. Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson’s seventh film and the first film of his to play at the Cannes Film Festival. With its international box office take of $68 million, Moonrise Kingdom was financially the second most successful of his films up until that point (after The Royal Tenenbaums).
The story is set just before a giant hurricane hits New Penzance Island in New England in September 1965. The basic premise is that Sam Shakusky, a troubled orphan is a khaki scout at Camp Ivanhoe, runs away from the camp to meet Suzy Bishop, an almost equally troubled local, at a prearranged location. It is revealed that they met a year earlier at a performance put on at the local church and have been communicating by mail ever since. Taking supplies and a cat with them, they set up a camp on a cove which they name Moonrise Kingdom. Where they are tracked down by Captain Sharp, Suzy’s family and the Camp Ivanhoe khaki scouts.
Once the pair have been returned, Sam is placed in Captain Sharp’s care. Sharp discovers that Sam’s foster family have decided not to take him back and he will be given over to Social Services who plans to place him in a rather Dickensian sounding “juvenile refuge”. At the same time the khaki scouts (after previously rather violently trying to track down Sam), have a change of heart and decide to help the young couple and reunite them. With the help of the Camp Ivanhoe khaki scouts Sam and Suzy again run off together, with all of the adults (now including Social Services) in pursuit along with the Fort Lebanon khaki scouts. Then the hurricane arrives…
Aside from the idiosyncratic set design, colour palette and attention to detail that is to be expected from any Wes Anderson film, there are so many wonderful touches in this film. Common Wes Anderson peculiarities such as an intrusive narrator, distant parents, lists, luggage and small record players playing some fantastic piece of music or other (Françoise Hardy in this case) are all present and delivered flawlessly. There are also many brilliant little character peculiarities, such as Scoutmaster Ward’s morning ritual (complete with cigarette) and the fact that Tilda Swinton’s character is referred to by everyone (including herself) as Social Services. Although it’s the throwaway reference to The Shawshank Redemption after Sam’s escape that always brings a smile to my face.
The performances are great across the board. The two young leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are exceptional in not only delivering Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s skewed dialogue, but also in portraying the affection between Sam and Suzy against the background of their rather troubled characters. In the key scene where Sam meets Suzy, Gilman’s delivery of “No. I said: What kind of bird… Are you?” and Hayward’s reaction make these two characters and their intense connection instantly believable. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are excellent as Suzy’s hapless parents and Bruce Willis puts in a perfect performance as the somewhat melancholy island policeman Captain Sharp. Jason Schwartzman’s all too brief role as Cousin Ben is also pretty great. However, the standout is Edward Norton as the incredibly well meaning Scoutmaster Ward, who brings so much heart to this role.
As with the other Criterion Collection releases of Wes Anderson films, the supplements included on the Moonrise Kingdom blu-ray release are exceptional. The first thing you notice on opening the packaging is the “ephemera” contained within, most notably including a map of New Penzance Island and a booklet in the “Indian Corn” magazine format (complete with a handout for the St. Jack’s Church Summer Pageant). The features on the disc are equally formidable. The audio commentary with Wes Anderson and Criterion President Peter Becker “moderated” by Jake Ryan (who plays one of Suzy’s brothers in the film) takes in phone calls to Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Roman Coppola and is extremely entertaining. Even though it isn’t really a commentary on the film as such, it is certainly worth a listen. There’s a series of supplements taking the “behind the scenes” and “making of” formats and doing some odd and interesting things with them, while remaining genuinely informative about the process. In addition to these, there’s a handful of promotional shorts for the film which are ridiculously enjoyable (such as the Animated Book Short below).
Visually and thematically Moonrise Kingdom is possibly the most representative of Wes Anderson’s films. However, it is notably different to the films which preceded it as the detachment previously shown by Anderson for his characters is replaced with a real affection. Moonrise Kingdom stands out to me as the Wes Anderson film with the most heart and is worthy of attention for that alone.