Consider ‘Rango’ the anti-Pixar movie that’s been long overdue. ILM raises the ante with a subversive animation experience that is as wild as the west it depicts. Prepare for your inner child to smile over how adult it plays. And, standing tall is the great Johnny Depp, who offers his loosest – and most winning — performance in a while. Get the download below:
THE STORY: Meet Rango (Johnny Depp), a rather grand city-bred chameleon that dreams of escape from his ordinary life as a family pet. Always questioning his true place in the world, he gets his answer when he accidentally falls out a car window during a cross-country move. Designed by nature to blend, Rango’s rollicking adventure begins when he stumbles into the lawless, drought-strangled town of Dirt. Populated by the sort of hardened creatures who know a bit more about survival, Rango quickly goes from outsider to savior. As Dirt’s new sheriff, Rango tackles his new role with gusto until corruption and crisis threatens his new friends. Facing a showdown with fate, Rango is forced to stop pretending and find the true hero within.
WHAT WORKS: Imagine a western that’s equal parts Sergio Leone, John Huston, Robert Rodriguez and the Coen Brothers. That’s the fun of Rango. Director Gore Verbinski takes a mighty gamble is toying with the Hollywood formula surrounding the animated film. This isn’t traditional family fare, which has liberated the filmmakers and the Industrial Light and Magic creative team to push the boundaries of the film’s humor and design. It is hard to believe ILM took so long to join the animation fray with a major feature film.
Honoring the lessons of the Pixar cabal, Verbinski has placed an equal premium on design and story. These are not warm, fuzzy and wholesome creatures that are meant to look on a Happy Meal box. Nope, these are meant to be tough lookin’ varmints with plenty of sass and real desert menace. Once you get used to the unusual world of Rango, the appeal of Dirt’s denizens begins to bloom and ultimately win you over. But the look of the film is often breathtaking, particularly its natural vistas and the town itself. Armed with the expertise of the great Roger Deakins, who was cinematography consultant for the film, Rango’s visuals alone validate this is not standard animation fare. Mercifully, it isn’t in 3D!
Next to its inventive design, what also stands out immediately is Johnny Depp as Rango, who leads a winning voice cast that adds considerable zeal to the film. Depp, who has been skirting the edge of being a caricature in his live-action film life since Pirates of the Caribbean, offers a loose performance that is intelligent and sincere. Given that Verbinski and the ILM team shot the cast Avatar-style (but without all the hardware), the end result pays off mightily. Rango the chameleon turns out to be one of Depp’s best performances in a long while. He’s also evenly matched by a cast that includes Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, a fearsome Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty and Ray Winstone. The film also scores big with its genius homage to Clint Eastwood by having the beautifully timed introduction of Timothy Olyphant as the Spirit of the West, just when Rango begins to doubt his very ability to save anyone, much less himself.
Screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator, Gladiator) knows a few things about heroic mythos. Culling the right iconic elements of the western, Logan’s Rango script also scores with its hefty infusion of salty, contemporary wit. Even the time-honored use of a Greek, or in this case Mariachi, chorus (Oye! It’s Los Lobos!), adds a great guitar riff to the mix without sacrificing the film’s inventiveness. Even if the modern “surprise” twist is a bit preachy, Rango’s adventure is a compelling one. Full of action and adventure, it absolutely culminates with a tense and violent showdown in the best western tradition. Rango never shies away from the unsavory may not win favor with some parents, so consider yourself warned. Come for the Depp and company, stay for the eye-popping visuals and the great escape of adventure.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The subversive nature of Rango may be a total turn-off to helicoptering parents who fear any thing they may construe as negative or politically incorrect. The creatures smoke. The bat air raid and the rattlesnake gunslinger showdown are visceral and intense sequences for small fry. The humor, and surprising innuendo, may tax little ones who will scratch their heads over why their parents are suddenly quite tense — or covering their ears. Perhaps it will be wise for parents to see it first without the kids in tow and decide themselves.
THE FINAL WORD: Rango leaves all recent safe, family fare to eat its dust.
Rango opens citywide on Friday, March 4. Check out Fandango, MovieTickets and NCM for tickets and theater information on all Personalities Movies.
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