It was only a few years ago that I truly embraced the films of Wes Anderson. I thought for a long time, “Oh, I know the kind of shtick he does,” and mostly just regarded them and moved on. But in 2009, he made The Fantastic Mr. Fox and I went, “Whaa? He can do THAT will his tried-and-true aesthetic?” And from then on, Anderson keeps surprising me pleasantly with his ability to form genre to fit his style and not the other way around. His follow-up to Mr. Fox was 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom which was like a Boy’s Own adventure set to in the ’60s to the music of Benjamin Britten. As with all of his films, Moonrise has come to Criterion Blu-ray following its initial studio-disc period is up, and it’s perhaps the most Wes Anderson-y release yet.
Moonrise Kingdom is set in the summer of 1965 on a small, fictional island in New England and talks of the strange romance/runaway of a 12-year old girl (Kara Hayward) upset at her feuding parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) and a 12-year-old orphan (Jared Gilman) who is the outcast of the Khaki Scouts (led by Edward Norton). The families, scout troops, and chief of police (Bruce Willis) get involved in looking for the pair and, despite their surprisingly chaste and idyllic plans to live in the wilderness, the kids keep getting pulled apart. Social Services (played by Tilda Swinton) gets involved as well, as does our narrator (Bob Balaban) who mends the fourth wall (copyright ME) and talks to the characters.
This is a really fun and enjoyable movie, but that’s not why you should buy this Blu-ray. You should pick up the Criterion disc because it’s the most perfect encapsulation of the weirdness and sensibility of Wes Anderson himself. As with all of Criterion’s releases of his movies, there is a commentary track, sometimes ported from an earlier release and sometimes recorded new and specifically for said release. These can range from Wes by himself to the director with co-writers or actors or any permutation of people. The Moonrise Kingdom commentary has to be the silliest hodgepodge of all time.
It’s Anderson, which is a given, along with Criterion President Peter Becker. Okay, nothing too weird there. The commentary is hosted by Jake Ryan (no, not the character from Pretty in Pink), the young actor who played Lionel, the oldest little brother of Suzy. It’s very clear the three of them sit in the recording booth all day long and are doing multiple takes of lots of things. Usually, because Wes will have Jake say something again or try it a different way at random intervals. During the commentary, they call up Norton, Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and co-writer Roman Coppola to share stories or whatnot. Coppola even waits around for them to call back if they think of another question. At a certain point, Anderson says “Roman, have you eaten lunch?” to which Roman, on the phone in California while the other three are in New York, says he hasn’t. “Neither have we,” responds Anderson. Now, whether or not Anderson expected this to actually make it into the commentary is unknown, but what IS known is how delightful these little asides and non sequiturs are to the 92-minute track.
There are certainly some lovely anecdotes and musings about filmmaking from everyone involved, with some of the most thoughtful coming from Edward Norton and Bill Murray, but there’s also just a lot of goofiness like Murray laughing at the little emcee doing his best Fernando Lamas impersonation after calling it “a character Billy Crystal made up.” There’s also a moment when, seemingly for no reason, Jake plays a Mozart sonata on the piano. It’s rare to have a commentary track so full of absurdity, and it’s just all-around perfect.
There’s also a feature-length making of, in French for some reason: seven “home movies” shot by Edward Norton on his iPhone from the making of the film; a tour of the set by Bill Murray; a very short intro by Bob Balaban; and a scene-specific animatic feature.
This is one of my favorite releases of a great movie Criterion’s done in a long time, and it perfectly sums up everything there is to love about the filmmaker in question. If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you really ought to pick it up.