- - Thursday, May 31, 2012

Watching a Wes Anderson movie is rather like watching a precocious child put on a little play with nursery toys: His sets are built with the fastidious precision of expensive dollhouses, his characters posed and manipulated like life-sized action figures. There are dramatic moments, and funny bits too, and the whole production is laced with an imaginative absurdity that seems drawn as much from a genuine naivete about the world as from any built-up cynicism. Many of the conflicts concern familial dysfunction, and the distance between parents and their children. The story is drawn from real life, or something like it, but at no time does anything resembling reality actually intrude.

Objective reality is not the subject of “Moonrise Kingdom,” Mr. Anderson’s endearing and amusing seventh feature. Instead, the movie is devoted to capturing the subjective experiences of two clever but emotionally troubled adolescents, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who find each other — and themselves — on a small New England island.

The story is told from their perspective, but much of the screen time is devoted to four adults: Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). The four are brought together when Sam, a scout in the island’s troop, and Suzy, a bookish misfit, decide to run away together. The story follows two tracks: the journey of Sam and Suzy as they set up a temporary home, and the worried adults attempting to track them down.

The young, first-time performers playing Sam and Suzy are charming enough that their weaknesses as actors are easy to forgive: Kara, in particular, shows real promise. And any deficiencies in the young leads are more than made up for by the deft performances of the four adult stars, all of whom give themselves fully and generously to Mr. Anderson’s meticulous vision.

Ultimately, the movie’s stars are merely players in Mr. Anderson’s cinematic dollhouse. Like all his previous films, which include “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Moonrise Kingdom” is a fussy and particular movie, the product of a stylized, singular vision and a peculiar but consistent set of narrative interests, including but not limited to young love, parental dismay, board games and children’s amateur theater.

Indeed, “Moonrise Kingdom” may be Mr. Anderson’s fussiest and most particular movie yet: Costumes are picked to precisely match set decor, and sets are built to resemble full-size shoebox dioramas, each a sort of upscale shoebox constructed to house a particular character and scene. Mr. Anderson lavishes each with considered, telling details designed to reveal the character of those within; nothing within the frame escapes his control.

The monomaniacal fussiness makes “Moonrise Kingdom” an indulgent movie, but not a bad one. Rather the opposite: It’s a film that shows Mr. Anderson succeeds most when he indulges his own stylistic and thematic obsessions rather than attempt to suppress them.

★★★½

TITLE: “Moonrise Kingdom”

CREDITS: Directed by Wes Anderson, screenplay by Mr. Anderson and Roman Coppola

RATING: PG-13 for sexuality and language

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS