LOS ANGELES — When Wes Anderson tells a story set in a ramshackle, gypsy cab-populated Manhattan or a Texas prep school or a verdant island off the coast of New England, the director paints from memory, creating worlds that might not look realistic but feel emotionally honest.
His latest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” has the vivid but fantastical look of a picture book about preteen romance, what he described as “a memory of a fantasy.”
“I wanted to create a setting that was unfamiliar, and someplace where the audience hasn't been before, I hope,” Anderson said in a recent Skype interview.
“There's a fantasy element or fable sort of element, which doesn't mean it needs to be artificial. What is sort of theatrical about it is the thing I like.”
“Moonrise Kingdom” follows the bittersweet romance between Sam and Suzy, two 12-year-olds who lock eyes during a performance of Benjamin Britten's church opera “Noye's Fludde” and commit to running away together. Sam (Jared Gilman) is dissatisfied with life in his foster home and cannot relate to the rough-and-tumble kids in his Scouting troop, and Suzy (Kara Hayward) listens to Francoise Hardy records and immerses herself in books, an escape from dealing with her emotionally distant parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray).
At the appointed time, Sam and Suzy run away and hide on a remote beachfront area of their cool, green New England island, sparking a search by the girl's parents, Sam's troop leader (Edward Norton) and the island's emotionally haunted policeman, Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis).
As he did with “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” Anderson blends realism with the look of theatrical productions. It is a style that he learned as a child in Dallas, watching highly theatrical films by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger such as “The Red Shoes” and “Black Narcissus.”
“Part of what I love about them are that they are these wonderful stories, wonderful characters,” Anderson said. “They are very moving and very vivid in all sorts of ways, but part of what I love is that they were these artisans who were creating something for us that is very related to theater. ‘Black Narcissus,' for example, is set in the Himalayas, but it was a movie that was made at Pinewood (Studios) entirely. All the mountain ranges were painted on glass.
“‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' is maybe my favorite of all their films,” he said. “It has beautiful sets, interiors and exteriors that were filmed indoors, and you can sense that, but they are extremely detailed. They are like paintings. ‘The Red Shoes' is a ballet — the whole movie is. That is where I come from.”
Anderson's style is so distinct and specific that when he turned to stop-motion animation for 2009's “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the lack of live action barely registered with audiences and critics as a major departure.