The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 12): 12-Year-Old Kids and Imaginary Kingdoms

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When my wife leaves, the conversation often turns to more childish things at my house…

“Will, how was your day at school?” I ask.

“Good,” Will says.

“How about you Louise, you have a good day?”

“Yep,” Louise says.

“That’s good…[thinking]…wanna see how far Daddy got on the Tatooine level of Angry Birds Star Wars?” I ask.

“YAAAAAYYYYYY!!!!,” they yell out in unison.

I promise that my knowledge of what my kids do in school is deeper than this. It just didn’t get any deeper on this particular night. After showing the kids how I got three stars on most of the Tatooine levels, I had a thought.

Louise saw me thinking this thought and said, “When you smile a little bit and you look really sneaky, it means your thinking about letting us watch television, Daddy.”

“We watched the first Star Wars movie, right? Have I ever let you watch the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back?”

“”YAAAAAYYYYYY!!!!”

So we watched Empire, the best of the Star Wars movies. They were groundbreaking at the time, and my kids loved it, but for me as an adult, the movie didn’t hold up that well. George Lucas really can’t write, a fact that’s exposed when you watch the movies again and again over the years. This wasn’t the majority public opinion until Lucas foisted Episode I on us in 1999. We were no longer falling for his special effects misdirection – when Lucas was doing CGI parlor tricks with his left hand, we could see him writing badly behind the curtain, hoping we wouldn’t notice.

Fortunately for Lucas, in 1977, he was doing something no one had seen before. His screenwriting shortcomings were masked by a young Harrison Ford (who acted the hell out of the ludicrous dialogue he was given), he had a visual sense of style like no one before him, and he had created a wonderful imaginary world. As a kid, I was into it. All the movies, all the toys, every detail. And what did I know about good dialogue at that age? More than anything else, Empire made me feel nostalgic for a time when I could immerse myself in something like that.

The night after watching Empire, I watched Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson, like Lucas, creates his own worlds for his movies. They may seem like the real world, but they are a quirkier, more colorful, and far more symmetrical. Anderson doesn’t carry his characters over from movie to movie, but his style is so distinct that you know when you’re in Wes Anderson’s head. The private school extra-curriculars of Rushmore, the underwater voyages of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and the forest island of Moonrise Kingdom all take place in the same meticulously art-directed, storybook world. They may not take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way, but that’s OK.

Moonrise Kingdom features kids in a way he hasn’t done since Rushmore, Anderson’s best movie and one of my favorites of all time. Some of his best characters have been young, digging into life without fear of failure, even if mixed results ensue. I don’t think his films are as strong when he’s portraying damaged characters, or at least when ALL the characters are damaged. The exception is Bill Murray, who appears in all Wes Anderson movies and is almost always damaged, but no one pulls it off quite like Bill Murray.

I have a feeling that if I were a 12-year-old today, I would be immersing myself in Wes Anderson’s work. Moonrise Kingdom, about a boy and a girl about that age who run away together, is funny like all Wes Anderson movie are, and has a bit of that taboo thrill of pre-teen love. It also has plenty of rummaging-through-a-thrift-store details to geek out on. Anderson actually commissioned cover art for the six storybooks that Kara Hayward’s character Suzy reads during the movie, and Anderson himself wrote the passages she reads from these books. He also decided to animate all six books, even though this animation does not appear in the movie.

The man is a slave to detail, which you can see almost all of on the Moonrise Kingdom web site, one of the most comprehensive movie web sites I’ve ever seen. I’m giving this movie an $8.00.

I wished I could have watched the movie with my Dad, who reminds me of Ed Norton‘s character Scout Master Ward. Set in 1965, Scout Master Ward is in charge of Camp Ivanhoe, a “khaki-scout” camp on New Penzance Island. In 1965, my Dad was 21 years old, and near that age served as a camp counselor at Many Point Scout Camp outside of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I can imagine my Dad spot-checking uniforms and camp sites, handing out demerits to messy kids, but ultimately caring about whether they were having a good time and learning something.

And I’m sure he could weave a hell of a lanyard.

Next post: I’m trying to group the movies I have left to see according to theme so I can write a few interesting weekend posts before the Oscars. So maybe it’ll be a Life of Pi/The Impossible against-all-odds/natural-disaster weekend. Oh goody.

Jay Kelly blogs at The Head Fake.