Review: Rango (2011)
The unforgiving sun
What do you get when you take Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, grind it into Sergio Leone, sprinkle those ashes over Don Quixote under the watchful and steady eye of Gore Verbinski and have the miracle makers over at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) paint a picture of all the madness? You get Rango, as portrayed by a cast of creative and crafty critters in the middle of the desert. You get, in effect, the best animated film of the year and one of the best films of the year, period.
Rango's poster ad campaign was one of the better ones of recent memory. With every new poster preview, my mouth would water and my interest peak to an ever more unbearable apex of anticipation and curiosity. I didn't know what this movie was about, really, but I knew all I needed to to know. When you have Johnny Depp voice a lizard, looking very displaced in the desert amidst supporting players that look like the animal counterparts of a thousand dusty Western characters and then toss a toy wind up fish in his hands, you've got gold as pure and sure as the hot desert sun itself.
Okay, so now that I've seen the movie, it has met and surpassed my surmise in regards to its entertainment qualities, what makes it so good?
Well, as with any movie worth its weight in popcorn, the acting, or rather, voice acting, is top notch. Depp again assures us with this charming and affable performance that his current status as maybe (probably) the world's biggest male celebrity is not a fluke or a random aligning of stars, but well earned and kept as he rarely fails to ignite the screen in anything he does, even when he himself isn't actually on that screen. But this isn't strictly a Johnny Depp showcase, he is surrounded by the assured talents of some very heavy hitting talent:
Alfred Molina, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant doing a hell of a good Clint Eastwood impression, and Ned Beatty, whose voice you may recognize as the daycare dictator Lotso Huggin' Bear in Toy Story 3 (or from one of the hundred and fifty some odd movies he's done in his career).
But good acting is little more than theatrical masturbation if it has nowhere interesting to go and take it from me friends, this movie goes places. Starting in a tiny aquarium and moving swiftly to a highway, an endless desert, a turn of the century looking old west town (the movie takes place in modern times, which makes the time stilted town all the more funny for it), showdowns in saloons, chases through mountainous hills and valleys, and back to that formidable opponent, the American highway. Those are the locals of course, what happens in those locals is entertaining, fun, exciting and hilarious. Without giving away too much detail, the plot basically concerns a house pet lizard who gets misplaced and in an attempt to get back to his home, and with the guidance of some helpful (and somewhat mystical) critters, he happens upon an old west town where he poses as a feared gunslinger and quickly becomes a popular local celebrity. He vows to help the town recover the (not surprisingly) very coveted water supply that has been getting stolen and in the process ends up rubbing elbows with the town's unfriendly banditos and a corrupt mayor who never seems to be on short water supply. It's a simple plot, told with great skill and an obvious love of the story by the filmmakers.
Finally the animation. It's beautiful in a way you don't realize animated films have the ability to be, it's the most impressive thing about this movie. The closest thing to a photo realistic image animation has ever produced and easily the best animation I have ever witnessed on a screen of any size. Rango is the first feature film animated by the special effects juggernauts Industrial Light & Magic, the wizards responsible for groundbreaking work in films too numerous to name, just Wikipedia them and see for yourself.
Their moniker as cutting edge ground breakers is retained and on full display here.
And all of this without those overused and overpriced two little characters whose omission on the poster art for the movie leading up to its release had me so giddy to begin with. Yes ladies and gentlemen, rejoice for what is the first animated film in many a moon NOT to be released in 3D. Thank you Gore, thank you ILM, thank you Rango. Goodnight.
Rating: ***** (obviously)