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Friday, March 11, 2011

Rango (Release Date: 3-4-2011)

        I'm sure there was a time when this wasn't the case, but for as long as I can remember, family-oriented entertainment has always strived to appeal to adults and children alike. It's a difficult task, as the two groups are clearly on different mental wave-lengths, and Pixar remains the only American animation studio who knows how to create stories that immediately apply to both demographics. Others are more apt to hand plot, morals, and visuals to kids, while throwing in a joke or two that only their guardians can understand. It's an uneasy mix that often leaves movies feeling a bit off-balance, but it's a problem that Rango knows just how to solve: Make your kid's movie exclusively for adults!

        Johnny Depp stars as the titular chameleon who finds himself marooned in the middle of the Nevada desert. With the help of a sagely armadillo (Alfred Molina), he finds the town of Dirt, a lawless western location populated exclusively by animals who all tout a relentless verbiage that wouldn't be the least out of place in the Coen Brothers' True Grit. The gruff and tough towns-people have a real problem on their hands: Their weekly water supply has come to a halt, and their existing store is dwindling quickly. Seeing an opportunity to finally define himself, the chameleon takes on the name Rango, and swears to bring water back to Dirt, having no idea of the troubles that await him.

        Rango could be described as a lot of things: Meta-Movie, Existentialist Quest, Western Homage, among others. One thing that it absolutely cannot be described as, however, is a kid's movie (Because if there's one thing I know about kid's movies, it's that they don't feature Hunter S. Thompson, even if he is animated). If the frequent use of unfamiliar language and relentless references to movies released decades ago weren't enough, Rango has just enough violence and frightening imagery to do the trick. In the last few years, movies like Coraline and Where the Wild Things Are have prompted people to ask when exactly a kid's movie just ups and stops being what it's called. In Rango, we finally have an answer, and though I can't help but be a bit disappointed in the marketing team for how many faces of youthful bewilderment they just sent into theater parking lots, it sure makes for an interesting viewing experience for all those above five feet in height.

        There are no bones to be made about the fact that Rango is a beautifully animated movie, straddling the line between Motion-Capture and traditional animation to create a visual pallet all to its own. Director Gore Verbinski, who has a knack for helming successful movies for which his name is not remembered (The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, The Ring, the under-rated The Weather Man) will likely have his credit stolen again here by Depp's voice, but it's not for lack of effort. His ability to create mad-cap energy without needing to floor the gas petal is at work once again, rendering the proceedings with all of the singularity and oddity that one hopes for. His impressive knack for action-scenes also shines through despite the change in mediums, shoot-'em-ups aplenty proving visually compelling, and excitement inducing.

        Depp might still have a little ways to go as far as voice-acting is concerned, but there's no doubt that he's at least trying to create a character other than himself, an effort that most celebrity voice-work can't honestly claim to. He doesn't have the most to work with plot-wise, as Rango is far more interested in its visuals and its citations of cinematic classics (a huge portion of its basic storyline is cribbed from Chinatown, for crying out loud. Has your eight-year-old seen Chinatown?) than it is with molding a compelling tale. This general disinterest with connecting dot A to dot B can lead a viewer's mind to wander on more than one occasion, but when you're staring up at this type of visual candy, not to mention Hans Zimmer's killer Spaghetti Western score, it's hard to be too disappointed. Like most movies that are experimental in nature, Rango is pretty uneven and under-developed, but it's status as a fun watch is nearly unquestionable, and those with a sturdy background in film history will get a kick out of it. Just make sure to call a babysitter before you see it.

Grade: B-


  1. I'm very curious if you could break down your grading system. Is a movie with a C an undesirable grade (as it would in school)? or is it middle of the road? What makes a movie an A movie (or an A+ for that matter)?

  2. I love it. Meta + Hunter S. Thompson? Yes please! well done, collin. you changed my mind about skipping yet another movie. aaaand shortly, i will be $10 poorer.

  3. Ironically enough, I posted the grading scale the day that you left that comment Tyler, so check it out!