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He might’ve hit a brief dry spell with “The Tourist”, but Johnny Depp is back, and “Rango” is the perfect way for Hollywood’s most eccentric tween and adult crush to make his big screen return. It may not be a laugh factory, but the adventure is ripe and the animation superb.
He’s just your average chameleon in a glass cage, until a bump in the road relocates our domesticated lizard. No longer safe in the confines of a rock yard next to a pond, our unnamed hero must move through the extreme heat of the Nevada desert, whilst avoiding the hungry locals. Things get even more interesting for the little green guy when he comes across an old west town. After drinking cactus juice in the local bar and defeating a great beast, through a mix of luck and strategy, he takes on the name, Rango, and becomes the local sheriff. Finally, the citizens of this dried out town have something to believe in, even if the water lines have turned to mud.
And with draught comes unkind neighbors who either want the town’s water reserves or its people’s lives. Rango finds that his love for acting, a pastime that occupied much of his waking life in seclusion, allows him to redefine himself and take on the persona of a fictional character. But will the facade last, or will our scrawny chameleon be forced to confront his lack of identity once more and seek out the Spirit of the West for answers (hopefully that wasn’t too leading)? Prepare yourself for this (mis)adventure filled with aerial battles, snake fights and good old-fashioned high noon shootouts.
In every way, “Rango” is the classic fish-out-of-water story about a nobody who becomes a hero. It’s all been done before, but never with the beauty of this film’s animation. At some moments, the film is perhaps too clear, giving us HD close-ups of disgusting lizards and possums. Let’s just call it gross admiration. I also question how well this film will work for younger audiences, what with the noticeable body count and surrealist shots that would even confuse the more mature viewer.
Surprisingly, “Rango” isn’t that funny. Even the hysterical hawk attack from the original trailer is edited more like a suspense scene. The film’s soul resides in the crisp animation coupled with a genuine sense of adventure. I will say, however, the mariachi owls who narrate the film add some much-needed relief and flavor, especially when they both talk to the audience and Rango.
With digital animation’s increasing popularity, it’s little wonder that live-action directors are switching over. Robert Zebeckis (“Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away”) is the most notable director for whose three attempts have been less than…shall we say, successful (“The Polar Express”, “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol”). Also from the world of live-action film, Gore Verbinski marks his follow up to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy with this Nickelodeon produced film. While the animation might be new territory for him, the adventure of the story and the desert motif is all too familiar, considering one of his earlier films, “The Mexican”. Making the cinematic transition all the more memorable, Verbinski gave his performers outfits and set pieces to work with while they recorded their lines, and the final product is some stellar voice acting performed by several familiar names.
Of course Johnny Depp is enjoyable, but much like many leading stars, he plays a more laid back character, allowing others to shine. One is the evil Davy Jones, Bill Nighy, who returns as Rattlesnake Jake, putting aside his British accent for something a little Western. Ned Beatty proves that “Toy Story 3” isn’t the only film that wants his voice talents as the corrupt leader. Isla Fisher is a total shocker here as she plays love-interest, Beans, with a Western accent that makes her normal voice unrecognizable. The real surprise is the Spirit of the West, but I won’t ruin that one for you.
It’s early, but we might just have our first animated contender for the 2012 Oscars. Verbinski takes a formula story and adds his own homage to the genre with some rather abstract shots and a protagonist who’s just as odd as the actor who voices him.
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Great article!!! I’m gonna check this one out.