“ Genre: Children's DVDs - Animation / Parental Guidance / Director: Gore Verbinski / Actors: Johnny Depp, Timothy Olyphant, Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin ... / DVD released 2011-07-25 at Paramount Home Entertainment (UK) / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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One Monday, I took our youngest with me to do the weekly grocery shopping. We came home with two DVDs (and the groceries, I hasten to add). One was Gnomeo & Juliet, the other was Rango. Youngest had watched Gnomeo at school with her mates at the end of term and they'd all had a laugh and enjoyed it, so it came recommended at least by a class of 10 year olds. We watched that first, and it was ok, animation was very good, the story was fine, nothing out of the ordinary but she was happy. Rango, however, came with no recommendations at all other than the trailer that I'd downloaded to my phone months before. I didn't remember hearing or reading anyone's comments on the film.
We would have liked to have seen it when it was released in the cinema, but like many other things last year, that went by-the-by. I was hoping that this would be The Film to restore my faith in newer animated movies. It's PG, it has Johnny Depp voicing the main character, it's by the team that did Pirates of the Carribean, so there's a chance. Well, the opening sequence had us puzzled in a good way, quirky, a bit surreal, then all becomes clearer (at least for a while) and we all settled in to watch this fascinating tale unfold. Rango is a chameleon, and this is his story of self-discovery. He has to fend for himself in the desert, having been unintentionally been released from his tank where he'd been kept as a pet.
The basic storyline, underneath many layers, is one that we have seen hundreds of times before - outsider comes to town, manages to become a hero by accident, gets found out & has to make good. But here, this almost plays second fiddle to brilliant characters (a town populated by wild west era desert creatures in full Western regalia), a major local environmental crisis and political corruption, jaw-dropping scenery, general quirky weirdness, and a mariachi band of desert owls who pop up occasionally to drop in fatalistic predictions on our hero. And in the middle of all this, Rango meets his 'fate' in a terrific dream sequence which I find exquisitely beautifully written, animated and musically accompanied.
The animation is stunning, quite incredible at times - the attention to detail is mindboggling. One of the benchmarks of quality for me in an animated movie is whether or not you continue to see more tiny details each time you watch, and this has those moments in abundance. Look out for the rainbows in fine water spray on a couple of occasions! If you've seen Pirates of the Carribean 3 / At World's End, that will give some idea as to the feel of this film, and some of the visual ideas that they came up with for that turn up here too. For instance, the scene where stones turn into thousands of crabs and end up carrying the ship across the desert is re-enacted with Rango being carried in a similar way. The chase scenes are brilliantly inventive, one involving a large number of bats. There are quotes from many different movies - I don't think we'll get them all for another few watches though.
It's quite a long film (one and three quarter hours) but every minute is worth it. Ok, some of the jokes are worthy of pantomime ("We are thespians!" "That's illegal in 7 states"), but I'll forgive them that - it's stunning, funny, puzzling, wonderful and very surreal at times. As a friend remarked, it's a total joy to watch. And watch it again we shall (youngest is watching it again already this morning) - but not too often. I don't want to lose the wonder and take this gem for granted.
The film was nominated best animated movie of 2011 at the Golden Globes, won the award at the BAFTAS, and is Oscar-nominated.
Selected cast (voices only)
Rango - Johnny Depp
Beans - Isla Fisher
Mayor - Ned Beatty
Roadkill - Alfred Molina
Rattlesnake Jake - Bill Nighy
Bad Bill - Ray Winstone
Directed, co-written and co-produced by Gore Verbinski
Original score by Hans Zimmer
While I am yet to be convinced that any modern Western from any platform has the capacity to rival the greats of the last Century, I admire and relish the fact that it doesn't stop directors and producers from trying. One such latest attempt comes in the form of an animated comedic Western with animals as the main characters, thus sparking interest (presumably) amongst the younger generation.
Johnny Depp lends his soothing dulcet tones to Rango, a pet chameleon with a penchant for acting who finds himself pretending to be a legend of the Wild West following a car accident that leaves him stranded in the desert, stumbling across the water starved town of Dirt. The inhabitants of Dirt need a new hero and sheriff and the dramatic chameleon, adopting the name Rango, rises to the challenge. What follows is an entertaining hour and a half of typical Wild West, with a secret villain (easily guessable), a love interest, some renegades and a whole heap of clever animal based comedy.
Really, there's no attempt to reinvent the wheel, as director Gore verbinski pretty much accepts that what he gives us won't top the classics. Instead, he focuses on the comedy and the action, providing an exciting score that impresses as much as the visual elements of the film. The vocal talents of Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina and others are enlisted alongside Depp, whose versatility shines through as the rather endearing Rango tries to prove that he really is the skilled hero he professes to be, whereas in reality he's a bumbling idiot who has spent the majority of his life in a tank with half a Barbie, a wind up goldfish and some sticky back plastic with a desert feature stuck to the inside of his habitat.
The dialogue is often very clever, allowing adults to appreciate a bit of this as well as provide some comical entertainment for the younger generation. There is a bit of violence in the film, so it may not be suitable for the youngest of kids, I guess that's up to the individual parent to decide. I felt it was just about okay for our 7 year old, with a few choice moments that my wife and I shared a look wondering how borderline it was going to get.
Luckily though, the focus is one the entertainment, and nothing is dwelt on for too long. Verbinski knows how to keep something flowing quite well and manages it here to a satisfactory level. I think it's fair to say that the film improves as it goes along, starting off slowly and in quite an eccentric fashion. I recall that his attempt at a third Pirates of the Caribbean film, At World's End, had quite a few moments where I was spun out and confused, hoping for no more tangents to distract my focus from the film. Rango starts off like this, quite weird for the first 20 minutes or so, before it gets less complicated and the characters start to control the proceedings as opposed the feeling at the start where it's almost like waffling to fill the void.
Overall then, it's certainly worth watching, you just have to bide by the first 20 minutes or so while Verbinski gets the weird element out of his system. Thereafter, the animation is impressive, the score equally so, and the entertainment and action coming thick and fast with a decent plot. Well worth a watch - recommended.