Rango (2011) – Animation rarely looks this good, er, bad, er, good…
Normally gushing about animation is The Fat Man’s job, but when you pair one of my favorite directors (Gore Verbinski) back with some of his best character actors (Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy) and the result turns out to be something so… strange as this? Well, I just have to do a little of my own gushing.
Unfortunately for the desert town of Dirt, where the film’s story takes place, there is a strong lack of gushing. Water is a precious commodity, Rango quickly learns when he’s separated from his easy-peasy life and has to make it on his own in this harsh wilderness. It’s a climate where your enemies are vile vicious monsters that are ugly as sin, and so are your friends. Fortunately, he’s got a good head on his tiny wry shoulders and is quick to be on the case of the missing H2O.
We’ve been in a huge animation Renaissance for a while now with films like How to Train Your Dragon, The Secret of Kells, and the like giving Pixar (who recently stumbled with the unwanted Cars 2) a real run for their candy-colored money. What really sets Rango apart is that while normally you have adorable creatures spouting off cutsy lines that are easily translated to making ancillary products like video games and toys, these characters are hideous. They are absolutely uuuuugly. Except for maybe the trio of mariachi playing birds.
The script is deceptive as well. While it plays on a kid-friendly level sometimes, more often than not, it has its sights squarely aimed at a more mature audience. So sophisticated are these characters, they aren’t simply one-notes dropped in to fill the usual particular roles. And the jokes, along with some of the themes, are so transcendental, you almost think you’re back in Davey Jones’ Locker with Captain Jack Sparrow during At World’s End.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it IS at heart a Gore Verbinski film, complete with a sort of westernized version of swashbuckling complete with similarly set up action pieces. Maybe it’s because the actors actually play-acted the movie all together on sets while doing the voice work instead of being recording themselves over a period of time in different locations. Or maybe it’s just that the movie is so much damn fun. Whatever the case, while you never stop thinking this Rango fella is one odd chameleon, you do realize you really enjoy this cartoon.
I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Queer on not only suggesting, but embracing animation for this week’s DVD review. I’m repaying him by suggesting that we see Captain America: The First Avenger. You’re welcome, Queer.
Rango‘s trailer really contains everything truly funny in the movie. Normally this would be a problem for a hilarious children’s movie, but apparently only the first 5 minutes of the film were delivered and marketing went off running to promote a funny kid’s film. Painted in a palate of grays and browns, Rango is a gritty western with an odd assortment of grizzly animals that are so water-starved, they’ve started talking with Texas accents (and some British). Rango comes along like a fish out of water and uses his charm and filthy lizard lies to endear himself to the townspeople, eventually solving the crisis and living happily with some rodent.
While the story didn’t come across as terribly creative, it was the dirty details that got me. Rango’s first exposure to the desert sun results in two quick skin-sheddings – a scene that I rewatched 10 times, cringing each time. Kids movies generally approach death like-a so: there’s some comical violence throughout, maybe some threats to life and limb, but at the climax of the film the uncontested villain of the movie finally gets his through a noncommittal death. Think sabre-toothed tiger in Ice Age and Captain Hook in Peter Pan (we all know he was dismembered by the croc). In Rango, death comes constantly and brutally – drowning, crushing, falling, and being shot. There is no mercy, but the animals do act as animals and don’t seem to care. The movie also had some beautiful landscapes, tributes to other movies, and so much sand and dirt.
I don’t really attribute much of the movie to Gore Verbinski. Having seen how companies like Pixar work, a lot of the little details that make a film come from the animators themselves, not the story or the director. He’ll thumbs up/thumbs down, but these are ideas originating in a far more creative place. The story was not very compelling or original, but everything else made up for those shortcomings. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Johnny Depp, who seemed to be channeling a mixture of Kermit the Frog and Sam Rockwell playing Zaphod Beeblebrox. I couldn’t even recognize the voices of every other cast member and I think that speaks to voice work more than being easily recognizable. Whatever it takes to sell a ticket, I suppose.
Speaking of selling tickets at all cost, the one thing that took what would have been an A-range movie in to the B’s was the idiotic punch-ups. Knowing the studio and director, it probably went like this: ”Wow, that was really dark. Can’t you, uh, make it funnier for kids? Like add some crotch shots and farts? Thanks a bunch, buddy!” And add them they did! During random, surreal scenes, audiences were treated to some animal farting. I’d say that might have been to add to the bizarreness of the movie, but again, knowing the studio and director, that’s doubtful. Some poor animator was tasked with going back and adding a puff of feathers or sand so some poor sound designer could go back and add a stupid fart sound. Well done, you masters of subtlety.
While Rango was no El Topo (not enough midgets), it had some surreal moments. It’s probably one of the most interesting animations I’ve ever watched, although I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as HTTYD or Wall-E. Still, a pretty interesting movie if you’re in the mood for something odd.
The Fat Man gives this movie: