For someone like you, who has overseen the color correction for nearly 200 films, a Wes Anderson project must be the ultimate gig. No other filmmaker so painstakingly composes the colors in every shot and so faithfully adheres to his own strict aesthetic code. Yet critics can be pretty black and white when discussing Anderson - either he's praised as a peerless American auteur or dismissed as a one-trick pony. I'm caught in the middle, believing he's a hit-or-miss director that often struggles to express shades of grey. But when his films work, his colorful characters and palettes can come together as near-perfect cinematic compositions. And Moonrise Kingdom is the best expression of his talents yet.
Anderson was born to tell a children's story. The Fantastic Mr. Fox brought him into that realm, but his visual signature felt conventionally artificial in stop-motion animation. Moonrise Kingdom allows him, for the first-time, to put children at the center and let us experience their storybook understanding of the world. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and (of course) Bill Murray may be the headliners, but newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are the emotional center which all the other performances must be adjusted against. In the language of your work, they are the flesh-line and the white balance. And because the characters are drawn more than skin-deep, the whole movie succeeds.
Set on a remote island in 1960s New England, twelve-year-old Sam Shakusky (Gilman) escapes from the strict regime of the Khaki Scouts and joins an emotionally disturbed but lovelorn Suzy Bishop (Hayward) in a journey that will test the survival skills of their budding romance. We believe their childish sincerity, which keeps the comedy fresh instead of contrived. The vivid and artificial define a lot of what we see on screen, but with the exception of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the calculated character portraits have never felt more appropriate. The anal-retentive scouts are a perfect foil for meticulously campy art direction.
There are also moments where the dark tones are more pronounced than I would expect. Not just the nighttime climax in monochromatic blue, or catalyst phone call in overpowering yellows, but in the subtle approach to violence and sexuality. Sure the treatment is comparatively harmless, but relative to a child's experience, these moments are illustrated as important highlights and lowlights that provide a refreshing range of experiences.
So if you, like me, were worried that Anderson may have already over-saturated his own formula, breathe easy. There's gold at the end of this rainbow.
With flying colours,