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Rango - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Animation: A+

It seems there's a new player in the animated feature game, one with the potential to rival Pixar like no other studio yet has -- and it is Industrial Light and Magic. The supposedly insurmountable ugliness of the desert animal characters aside, the stellar animation of Rango is by far its best feature, and alone makes the film worth seeing.

That said, the script, by Sweeney Todd's John Logan, has a great deal of refreshing cleverness -- not to mention delightfully bizarre non sequiturs ("I once had a spinal column in my feces") -- and yet does not quite match the consistent excellence of Pixar's writers.

But I must admit being aware of my bias here; I am so enamored with Pixar that I just can't help comparing all other animation to them. But with Rango, a film so unlike any other animated feature (or regular feature, for that matter), it could be argued that it's a comparison of apples to oranges. This film is virtually anti-Disney, with its surface rejection of family-friendly wholesomeness, and is far more enamored with its own quirkiness. And it has quirkiness in spades.

Films that are made in this way often stumble over their own self-satisfaction. But there's a refreshing sort of detachment here, although admittedly the result is so unique that there's no question Rango isn't for everyone. I happened to thoroughly enjoy it. But Johnny Depp, as the title character, has a long history of unconventional characters, and this is a story seemingly tailor-made for him.

It is not without its flaws, mind you. Rango is a chameleon who finds himself lost in the desert after a bump in the highway has him flung in his glass terrarium out onto the road. This is a spectacular animated sequence, but comes after an opening scene that grows dull almost immediately: Rango is revealed to fancy himself a thespian, performing in a play with other inanimate terrarium props playing the other parts.

There is never any explanation given for Rango's "Who am I?" existential woes. But then, there is plenty in Rango presented with little to no explanation, and in the end, collectively, that is part of its charm. The one clear connection to Rango's acting predilection is his easily slipping into the role of the hard-fighting sheriff of the nearby town of Dirt, where political corruption is causing a drought so severe that many of the towns folk are driven to move away. And as weird looking as Rango himself is -- dressed in his bright shirt that is a clear nod to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- Depp easily makes him a wonderfully entertaining character.

And yes, pretty much all of the animals here are either weird looking or strikingly ugly, one source of many (inexplicable, in my opinion) complaints. But all that really matters is that the characters are colorful enough to hold the attention of children and compelling enough to hold the attention of adults, which Rango does easily on both counts. And the adults in the audience in particular, should they be film lovers, should take great joy in the many visual references to other films -- most of them Westerns, but one scene a clear homage to the tie fighter chase in Star Wars. Instead of space ships, they are bats; even the wonderful score, by Hanz Zimmer, alludes to the Star Wars Theme -- using a banjo. (It's tempting to say that it's strange to marry Westerns an Star Wars, except that a) strange is what Rango is all about; and b) Star Wars was really nothing more than a Western in outer space.) It's fun just to watch this film and try and find all the movie references.

And all those references notwithstanding, Rango comes across as more original than anything I've seen in ages. It's not just platitude to say it's like nothing else you've ever seen. And the bottom line is, if you have a taste for quirk done right, then you need look no further than Rango.

Johnny Depp the Chameleon: running from unknown dangers in 'Rango'.

Overall: B+
2 comments or Leave a comment
susandennis From: susandennis Date: March 7th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would think that the "Who am I?" existential woes are part of the very DNA of every chameleon.

This one looks cute like maybe he's related to the Geico gecko.

This review reminds me that I need to look and see when/where Paul will be showing. Thaks.
cinema_holic From: cinema_holic Date: March 8th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, good point about being a chameleon. It still didn't work that well in the broader context of the film, aside from it being so odd. The rest of it was weird-funny; the opening scene felt more like it could be a bad omen for what was to come. Thankfully, it wasn't.

Paul opens March 18 -- a week from Friday. My go-to theatre will be the Metro, but if you want to see it together I'd totally be open to seeing it downtown; it's pretty much a guarantee it'll play at either the Meridian or Pacific Place.
2 comments or Leave a comment