The adult ensemble—consisting of all the stars used to market the movie—is more a supporting cast to the younger leads. While Anderson does include two veterans of his acting troupe (Bill Murray and Jason SchwartzmanRushmoreFantastic Mr. Fox, and others), Moonrise Kingdom boasts an infusion of first-time collaborators. Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel (Stone and Little Fockers, respectively) are joined by Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton (Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Chronicles of Narnia series, also respectively), and they all fit perfectly into Anderson’s universe of eccentric characters that require absolute conviction to pull off. Bruce Willis is another first-timer and, initially, he feels out of place; but as both the film and his lonely Island Police chief evolve we begin to see Anderson’s reasoning (especially in a climax that requires an aged quasi-John McClane from Die Hard).

The fictionalized version of the Boy Scouts—cleverly renamed The Khaki Scouts here—seems, at first blush, to serve a two-fold function: as foundation for story and character as well as an inspired visual motif for the meticulous Anderson to have a field day with (and he does). Upon reflection, a brilliant third layer of metaphor emerges: scouting is a perfect contrast to young love. 

Scouting exists to prepare kids for life. While it does that well, its preparation is limited to what’s practical, tangible, can be comprehended and mastered, defined controlled, and rewarded. Young love is the opposite of all those things. It’s difficult to understand, to articulate, or know what to do with, and there is no institution (even quality parenting has its limits) that can fully prepare kids for all that adolescence opens, especially the ambush of romantic attraction. First love is confusing, it can’t be controlled, and lacks predictable outcomes. Anderson never makes an overt connection to this contrast between scouting and maturing (to his credit), but no doubt it was an astute intention.

For all the deep thematic and emotional textures, it should be stressed that Moonrise Kingdom is also very funny and reflective of Anderson’s patented wit, one so dry it’s over-the-top. The pace often clips along at that of a tightly-choreographed stage farce, and some lines elicit full-out guffaws (a few seconds after the quip finally sinks in). It’s also an absolutely gorgeous film to look at, earthy yet fantastical, an exaggerated form of reality that feels like a life-sized play set. It has the feel of a fairy tale, but for a mature audience.