Without question, Moonrise Kingdom is the most distinctive and mystifying soundtrack Wes Anderson has concocted for his films to date. Anderson quietly came onto the film landscape in the mid-1990s with the release of Bottle Rocket. With the release of Rushmore a few years later he solidified himself as one of the most mesmerizing and ineffaceable directors of his time. Martin Scorsese singled him out as one of the few modern directors he felt were worth watching. A few months back when I saw a trailer for Moonrise Kingdom in theaters my wife immediately turned to me and asked me if it was a Wes Anderson film. As we continued to watch the trailer, we discovered it was. So what is it that make's Anderson's films so matchless and immediately recognizable? I'm not entirely sure that even a book could encapsulate the whimsy and magic of his films that are so identifiable, but something that's irrefutable is the music within his films. Whether it was the British Invasion influence that added emotional bliss and anguish to Rushmore, the Kinks who helped guide three brothers on a tour of India in The Darjeeling Limited, the ear-piercing sounds of the Ramones during the opening credits to The Royal Tenenbaums or the exuberant dance exercises of the Beach Boys and the Bobby Fuller Four on Fantastic Mr. Fox the music of each of Anderson's films is a character unto itself. The music isn't merely sonic dress-up but an integral part of the story, the script and it allows the viewer to dive into the head and heart of his characters.
The story of Moonrise Kingdom takes place in 1965 off the coast of New England where two twelve-year-olds let their youthful adoration for one another get the better of them as they venture by themselves off into the unknown wilderness. Being that the film is set in 1965 (four years before Wes Anderson was born), much of the music he usually turns to would not have existed. The twenty-one track collection is one of the most idiosyncratic, peculiar and cerebral soundtracks in recent memory. At the core of the soundtrack is Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra which was originally recorded in 1946 as an educational piece but became Britten's most enduring pieces and is continually used in the music education of children. The protagonists of the film are swept away by the royal choral sounds of Noyes Fludde which Britten composed in 1957. Without having seen the film yet, it's hard to say how much more the music will seep into me upon seeing the film, but just listening to the soundtrack, it's hard to deny it as it's paired next to several Hank Williams songs. "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" is so full of despondency from Williams howling wail to the weeping guitars. Then there are bonafide classics from Leonard Bernstein and a song from French chanteuse Francoise Hardy ("Le Temps De I'Amour"). Hardy's song is sung in French, but the sound of her voice is concurrently sweet, sexual and serendipitous. Despite not having been born in 1965, her voice triggers memories of first love and pondering of the past and instills the question of how one would take alternate paths if they could go back in time.
One of the album's most notable features is the ingenious suite composed by Alexandre Desplat who previously worked with Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox. His contributions to Moonrise Kingdom are indecipherable to most listener's ears when heard with the Britten and Bernstein selections. He not only created energizing music, but perfectly emulated the quintessence of the originals for Wes Anderson's vision. The album's closer "The Heroic Weather – Conditions of the Universe, Part7: After the Storm" (say that really fast seven times in a row) is as full of sonic wonder as the album's opener "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra, Op. 34 Themes A-F" by Leonard Bernstein. After listening to this record a few times and despite its principally classical selections and overtones, it plays like a full album complete with valleys and peaks. If you have enjoyed Anderson's musical selections before, you will not be let down by Moonrise Kingdom as it captures the sense of adventure and throwing caution to the wind in a way one can only do when they're so full of childlike poise and self-assurance.
One never has an all encompassing grasp on every genre of music, so in essence we're all students who never graduate. I love my familiar favorites, but there is something stimulating of being taken into a world you never knew before. While I knew of Benjamin Britten, I had never studied nor heard much of his music and Wes Anderson changed that. Hearing his music side-by-side with wondrous new classical takes by Alexandre Desplat makes me appreciate it more and above all else, to seek out more about the man and his music. It has wetted my appetite for my next Wes Anderson adventure which only furthers my admiration for the soundtrack. While Moonrise Kingdom may not house forgotten favorites from the 1960s and 1970s you may have expected, it's a most welcomed musical detour and one you will surely want to revisit more than once.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter