April 7, 2011

02.04: RANGO

This is such a wonderfully odd "children's" film. There's nothing particularly revelatory or strange about the story or central themes (protagonist searching for identity, builds one with strangers only to have to redeem himself and save new-found friends come the end), but rather more in the telling of it.

Things start a little rough, as they try to set Rango up straight away as "weird" and "kooky". It just didn't flow right to me - yes they needed this character set-up for the rest of his decisions to make sense but I just feel it could have been handled somewhat more delicately. But once the weird chameleon is thrown from his glassed in world, and tumbles along the highway, things really kick off. He winds up in the wild west town of Dirt and convinces the townsfolk that he is one mean hombre. 'Fore too long he's made the Sheriff or this here town that is slowly dying of thirst.

Director Gore Verbinski gave us one of the most entertaining films of the last decade in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and followed it up with two of the murkiest sequels. And so, at first glance, his decision to give us an off-beat animated kid's Western with plenty of darkness and oddity is perhaps not the most logical next step. But he also gave us the delightfully knock-about Mousehunt so, combined with the Disney juggernauts, this is hardly virgin territory for the man. This is suitable for kids - the darkness found throughout is similar to that of early Disney - but it never talks down to them. There only two blatant pop culture shout-outs made - and they're both for adults (and film fans) more than anyone else.

Depp feels like he's in something of a safety area here as the voice of Rango - he's played the kooky outsider for so long and so often, it can barely be a stretch for him anymore. Thankfully, his voice-work here is definitely not a case of him phoning it in. The rest of the voice-cast is similarly impressive. And while I may lament the modern day demise of the dedicated voice-actor, with the majority of studio based animated films casting name actors, when films like Rango cast as well and appropriately as this, it becomes easier to bear. Isla Fisher, in addition to being a gifted comedienne, is vocally unrecognisable as the love interest, Beans. She brings such fire and commitment to the character, you cannot help but love her. And when the rest of your cast includes people like Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone and the wonderful Stephen Root you can't go far wrong.

Verbinski certainly hasn't skimped on the visuals either - the film looks stunning. The animation is so good you don't even come to think of it as animation. It's just there, looking gorgeous and real and crisp. Again, when you bring someone like the legendary Roger Deakins on as a "cinematography consultant" there's not a lot you can do wrong. I seem to see a pattern emerging here... Verbinski has done excellent work in just picking the right people for the job and then getting on with it. Everything looks artistically beautiful and each frame is crammed full of wondrous detail.

Rango will be quite unlike any other animated film this year. Again, there's nothing too original going on with the story or characters, but it's more in the way it is told. It pulls inspiration and reference points from a number of places, but usually finds a fun and interesting way of interpreting them. It doesn't talk down or become too winky-winky and you'll find yourself wanting to spend a little more time with the fantastic characters of a town called Dirt.

This is not even the weirdest thing in the film

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