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Preciousness is a hard thing to measure and even harder to allocate — particularly in the films of director Wes Anderson.

Anderson's adults suffocate under too much preciousness — consider the oddballs at sea in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" or in the dysfunctional family tales "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited." (The one group of adults who benefited from Anderson's preciousness were the animated animals of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox.")

But when doled out to children, Anderson's preciousness turns into diamonds of brilliant fire and wisdom — first in the neo-classic "Rushmore" and now in the perfect childhood nostalgia of "Moonrise Kingdom."

It is 1965 on tiny New Penzance Island, off the New England coast. Suzy (Kara Hayward), 12, waits on the crow's nest of her family's beachside house, watching through binoculars and waiting for something. She's dismissive of her siblings and of her attorney parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray).

On the other side of the island lies Camp Ivanhoe, where a troop of Khaki Scouts performs its daily drills for scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton). But on this day, Sam (Jared Gilman), also 12, the least popular of the Khaki Scouts "by a considerable margin," according to Scoutmaster Randy, disappears from his tent — leaving only a letter of resignation.

That these two preteens should meet in the middle of this small island is inevitable. That Scoutmaster Randy and Suzy's parents should call Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis), of the Island Police, is also inevitable. But what happens after that, on the eve of what we are told by the film's meteorologist narrator (Bob Balaban) will be the biggest storm in a decade, is downright magical.

Anderson, working again with his "Darjeeling Limited" co-writer Roman Coppola (son of Francis, brother of Sofia), puts his story in a tightly formal structure. Long panning shots take in an entire house or a whole scout camp, while quick cutting delivers the information about the island's peculiar geography or the beginnings of Suzy and Sam's relationship.

The adults, we learn, are hapless victims of their own thwarted desires — unable to cope when the audacity of Suzy and Sam's youthful idealism smacks them in the face. Capt. Sharp becomes most sympathetic, thanks to Willis' quietly grave performance.

But in a top-flight cast — which includes Harvey Keitel as a senior scout leader and Tilda Swinton as a shrill bureaucrat identified only as "Social Services" — the newcomers Hayward and Gilman steal the show. They provide the perfectly deadpan expressions that Anderson's absurdist humor requires, and they bring genuine heart to these characters as their shared outsider status entwines their fates. These charming kids give "Moonrise Kingdom" the warm glow of a summer fairy-tale, one you'll want to hear again. —


'Moonrise Kingdom'

Wes Anderson's whimsical and heartfelt tale of star-crossed 12-year-olds is his most charming comedy since "Rushmore."

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When • Opens Friday, June 15.

Rating • PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Running time • 94 minutes.

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