This is probably my favorite Wes Anderson picture. The immature adults who are usually the focus of his stories finally recede to the background to make room for children trying to be adults. Similarities to Rushmore are superficial since Moonrise Kingdom lacks the meanness of Rushmore’s characters; even most of the adults are altruistic, and the sincerity of Ed Norton’s Scoutmaster is one of the film’s highlights. Style notwithstanding, Moonrise has more in common with Malick’s Badlands than any of Anerson’s previous films.
The artifices of craft which characterize Anderson’s films now appear primarily in his subjects. I should have known that Wes Anderson loves Boy Scouting and Noah’s Ark, both of which combine encyclopedic taxonomies with handicrafts on a micro or macro scale. The Chester Cycle mystery play of Noah’s Flood appears as a church production of Benjamin Britten’s operatic setting, providing the avian-costumed romantic interest of the uniformed Scout.
Anderson’s obsessions with craft and catalogues find their most explicit expression in his choice of another Britten composition, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, for the film’s titles. Britten’s dismantling of a theme from Purcell, one family of instruments at a time, makes the artifice of musical composition as transparent as the cross-section of Steve Zissou’s boat, the sequence in The Life Aquatic whose technique of dollhouse exposition is repeated for Moonrise‘s titles.
But while the cross-section of the Belafonte defines The Life Aquatic, the presiding diagram of Moonrise — the map — is incarnated in an omniscient cartographer played by Bob Balaban, who narrates the story’s path and sometimes intervenes in it, and cartography’s acolytes, the orienteering Scouts.