Nov 21, 2011

[Movies] Rango (2011)

When I had first seen the posters for Rango, I had no idea what it was supposed to be abound. All I could see was this weird chameleon and the promise that Johnny Depp was involved in the project. Not much to go on really, and so I passed on this during its initial theater screening period.

I recently caught up with the movie on video in an effort to finally satisfy my curiosity in terms of what the big deal was supposed to be. And if anything, I was most definitely surprised by the end result. While I had few expectations about what this movie was supposed to be about, I don't think I was quite prepared for what I had either either. This was definitely a movie that surprised me, and mostly in a good way.

But did I like the movie? I'm not 100% clear on that either, I have to admit. That movie was many different things and a lot more complex that what I was expecting from an animated feature. While it does have elements that work for children, there's also a lot more to this movie that what's on the surface, something that is only better appreciated with age.

So maybe I'll form a more solid opinion as I write this review.


Rango is a 2011 animated comedy feature with strong Western elements to it. It was directed by Gore Verbinski with a screenplay by John Logan.

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Image by i.am.rebecca via Flickr
Somewhere in the Mojave Desert, a pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) becomes stranded after his aquarium falls off the back of his owner's vehicle. He receives a little advice from an armadillo (Alfred Molina) and manages to survive the desert long enough to get to the small town of Dirt with the help of Beans (Isla Fisher). The town is rather poor in terms of the primary commodity of the desert - fresh water.

Our chameleon protagonist then takes on the persona of Rango, whom he claims is a tough loner type the likes of which make old Western movies popular. He makes makes some rather boastful claims of his prowess and ends up having a run-in with an outlaw named Bad Bill (Ray Winstone). One thing leads to another, and he finds himself in the role of the town's sheriff, as named by the Mayor (Ned Beatty). Thus he's sent to investigate the loss of the town's water and figure out who's behind things.

First off, the movie has some pretty stunning animation. I know that CGI movies are are a dime a dozen these days, but there's definitely something most impressive about this one. All the characters are very well conceptualized with rich textures and believable expressions. Motion is very well portrayed whether in terms of the animals themselves or environmental elements like the water in the water cooler bottle or the movement of the plants. Total top notch job and in this regard I regret not having seen this movie in a full theater.

There's also a lot of top voice talent involved in this production - and this goes beyond those in favor of anything that Johnny Depp is involved in. With the likes of Bill Nighy portraying the villainous gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake and the deliberate and somber tones of Ned Beatty as the Major. Heck, they even threw in Timothy Olyphant as the Spirit of the West for a key moment in the movie. And it all worked - the ensemble managed to put together a pretty good Western, despite animals playing all the major roles instead of people.

In a past review (I forget for what though) I did mention that I've never been a big fan of Westerns. I fear that may have gotten in the way of my enjoying this movie since that's clearly what they wanted to achieve - to craft an alternative kind of Western flick that could appeal to both children and adults at the same time. And I think they did a great job of this with the kind of complex humor that works on multiple levels. The jokes were still funny even for adults and the more sensitive stuff was innocent enough to slip past younger ears, in a manner of speaking. Not quite laughing-out-loud kind of funny but definitely the fairly kind of witty funny we get with well-written productions.

The story was cohesive enough, although pacing felt a tad slow for me at times. Then again when compared to a traditional Western, one could argue that the pacing was actually rather fast given the younger target audience. Still, there's definitely a story to be told here and one that the movie does depict fairly well. And that's always a good thing.

Rango is not your typical kind of movie - it's not just for kids but it's not quite for everyone else either. It has a lot to say and does its best to say it well and you'll need to invest a significant amount of time in order to fully appreciate the movie for what it is. Thus it still manages 3.5 weird instances of Beans going all catatonic-ish out of a possible 5.




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