Judge Steve Power once coughed up an entire tribe of pygmies. They started lookin' at him funny.
No man can walk out of his own story.
Courtesy of director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) Industrial Light and Magic, and Paramount Pictures, comes Rango, the latest in the long line of computer generated family flicks. Does Rango rise to the heights of Pixar's best? Or is this just another excuse to sell video games and Happy Meals?
Facts of the Case
Johnny Depp is Rango, a slightly "off" pet chameleon who finds himself, through fortuitous circumstances, wandering into the dry desert town of…aptly enough…Dirt. The townsfolk are having problems with water, and Rango just might be the right Sheriff for the job, if he can survive highway crossings, giant hawks, an army of Bat-riding prairie dogs, and a gunslinging rattlesnake.
It could have been easy enough to dismiss Rango as just another in a long line of Hollywood cash grabs; a collection of archetypes and market tested critters in cowboy hats, genetically engineered from the first word to sell merch and rake in cash. In a sea of inane pop culture references and one-off ideas, the output of Pixar and Disney typically stands alone in a sea of growing refuse and mediocrity, but no longer. Rango is not only an unabashed love letter to the Western pastiche, but a sure quality product on par with the best animated flicks of the last few years.
Director Gore Verbinski brings his considerable eye for action and penchant for the weird to full effect, creating a visually dazzling piece of fun that is more likely to appeal to film lovers than curtain climbers. John Logan's witty script references everything from Chinatown to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and some of the more off the wall moments play out more like a peyote-fuelled exercise in surrealism. Be warned that Rango has its moments of action, and more than enough adult oriented humor to have the tykes scratching their heads in bewilderment, and there is some GREAT humor here. Like all of the best works in the genre, there's appeal here for young and old alike, though Rango definitely skewers towards the older side of the spectrum.
The quotient for weirdness may not come as much surprise considering Captain Jack Sparrow himself provides the voice of our central character, and Johnny Depp does his very best to make Rango another unique creation that could only come from his slightly off-kilter psyche. Much like Sparrow, he's not entirely loveable per se, but he's endearing. The supporting cast does good work as well, with Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, and Ned Beatty putting in great performances as the love interest, the villain, and the sleazy mayor respectively, but it's the townsfolk who really steal the show with a ton of great characters and hilarious dialogue that's timed for maximum effect.
Surprisingly little has been said about Rango's rather stunning animation courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic. Lucas' effects house has thrown its hat into the animation ring, and they've definitely proven they can stand with the big boys. I look forward to seeing what they tackle next.
Being a recent film, Rango is a brilliant looking specimen on Blu-ray. The 1080p High def image is vibrant, popping with the saturated colors of the west. The vibrant blue sky and dusty yellows gleam, perfectly capturing the shimmering heat-soaked look of the film. Textures are finely detailed and look ridiculously detailed, perfectly capturing ILM's wonderful animation. The sound isn't the most rousing track, trading bombast for warmth, but it's perfectly mixed; and the sound stage is suitably enveloping.
Notable extras include a slate of deleted scenes, a great featurette that runs close to an hour and, much like the film, doesn't cater to the youth audience, and a commentary from Gore Verbinski and some of the technical crew. It's a decent listen, but I can't say that it always held my interest.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I love Rango, it's not a perfect film; the plethora of ridiculously clever references to other films, and the laugh-out-loud dialogue are pinned together by rudimentary fundamentals. The three act structure never really differentiates itself from its peers beyond the inherent weirdness brought in by Depp's portrayal of the title character and Gore's offbeat direction. Sure it's kooky as hell, and reverential of the western tropes, but Rango is also woefully predictable, and follows the "hero's journey" playbook to the letter. Every traditional western stereotype is there, and it's brought the old animated film clichés with it. We know exactly what's going to go down the moment Rango opens his little mouth in a packed saloon and starts "embellishing" with flair.
As chock full with action as Rango is, I also found the flick definitely had some pacing problems, with the 107 minute runtime feeling more like something over two hours. A lot of things happen in Rango, and they don't always propel the plot forward. Sure, the set pieces are amazing, especially the chase scene between Rango and his posse and a group of Gatling gun toting Prairie Dogs riding bats, but they almost feel like they exist in the film because they have to. There's an almost episodic vibe to the action beats that makes them feel more "run of the mill" than they should.
Rango is, at its heart, a simple story told in a most unconventional manner. The magical blend of great action, wonderful characters, hearty laughs, and just a hint of the weird overcomes what minor flaws reside in the narrative execution. This is head and shoulders above your average kiddie fare, and Paramount's Blu-ray treatment is top notch! Also: The Spirit of the West…awesome!
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