The people and settings may be real, but Moonrise Kingdom is as deliberately animated as writer-director Wes Anderson’s last venture, the rather splendid Fantastic Mr Fox.
From the through-the-dollhouse opening that takes us round the family home of Murray and McDormand's married lawyers the Bishops to Bob Balaban’s on-screen narrator, it's clear we’re being treated to a live-action storybook. You can almost see the speech bubbles.
The year is 1965. The place, the campers' paradise of New Penzance off the coast of New England, where eager Khaki Scouts are primed for a life of adventure under the watchful(ish) eye of troop leader Ward (Norton).
Unfortunately, unpopular orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) has thrown a spanner in their well-drilled works by going AWOL with the Bishops' similarly troublesome daughter Suzy (Kara Hayward).
Having met at a church play the previous year, the pair have shown commendable initiative in planning their elopement. Nevertheless, police captain Sharp (Willis) wastes no time in forming a search party, deputising Ward’s finest young men in the process.
But Sam and Suzy are in no mood to come quietly. Blood is spilt. Sympathies change. And on top of the metaphorical storm, a physical one is also sweeping in... along with Social Services (as Swinton’s character is pragmatically called).
With every line, frame and scene conceived for maximum quirkosity, Anderson devotees will undoubtedly find the star-cross’d shenanigans a delight from beginning to end. Those less in tune with his MO, however, may get a gradual sense of diminishing returns.
Cute though the junior romance is, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola (son of Francis) don’t give the narrative enough legs to carry the movie.
Nods to Hitchcock and Escape From Alcatraz are all good fun, but by treating Sam’s foster-home life and Suzy’s anger management issues as sources of humour rather than character, they miss several dramatic tricks.
Consequently, they’re left to rely on the sort of aimless running around that blighted The Life Aquatic and their previous collaboration, The Darjeeling Limited.
Still, newcomers Hayward and Gilman make an endearingly raw couple in a sea of seasoned pros, with Willis and Norton at their most avuncular, Jason Schwartzmann fuelling the fun as a senior scout, and Harvey Keitel blustering in as the Khakis’ commander-in-chief.
Odd moments of introspection aside, Anderson is more interested in creating cartoonish larks than adding any fresh observations to his career-long study of family dysfunction.
That said, he certainly puts the loco in loco parentis. And with a constant stream of carefully contrived chuckles, only die-hard curmudgeons will remain unmoved.