Review: Rango (2011)

I am a fan of animation, I’m also a fan of Westerns, what happens when the two are combined?

Screenplay By: John Logan
Directed By: Gore Verbinski

I felt guilty the first time I watched Rango. I was still working the early morning shift at my old job, complete with an hour trip to and from work. Not to make excuses, but this created a very tired movie watcher. The Cubs could have been in game seven of the World Series (I know, I’m living in a dream world) and I still would have had trouble staying awake. When I sat down with my then fiancee, now wife, it was with the expectation of taking in a movie I was highly anticipating. Within minutes of the theatre lights darkening I was entranced by Rango even as my eye lids began to grow heavy. Every time I was woken up by a nudge from my fiancee I tried to play it off like I had not fallen asleep. When the credits finally rolled, and I was woken up for the last time, I left the theatre with a considerable tinge of guilt. What I had seen felt special, but I had no real recollection of what it was I had actually seen.

It’s months since that theatre experience and I now return to Rango. This time sleep was not an issue, I work more hours as an EMT but I like my career so that helps I guess, and making my way through Gore Verbinski’s animated Western I knew that my original thought of Rango being special was spot on. There is something about this film, something about the unique concoction of elements that make up Rango that is hard for me to put my finger on.

Mr. Verbinski has crafted an interesting film in Rango, one that is a bit scattershot in its focus. That lack of focus is possibly the films greatest strength, instead of a tightly centered story Mr. Verbinski uses his visuals to relay a story that moves across the screen like a swift summer breeze. The story from screenplay artist John Logan is a rather simple one, and the roominess in Mr. Logan’s story allows for a heft of visual style. The animators do a lot with framing, especially center framing. In a sense the story of Rango is that of framing, where characters are in relation to one another and their surroundings. Take the character of Rattlesnake Jake for example. When we first see him he is in the center of the frame, his massive bulk taking up most of the screen. Cut to Sheriff Rango returning to confront Rattlesnake Jake and he begins to shrink in size and loses the center of the frame. This is how Mr. Verbinski takes a slim script and tells a visual story, a story that more than fills out the close to two hour run time of the movie.

On the subject of visual artistry, the folks at Industrial Light & Magic sure seem to be at the top of their craft. I would easily put the animation in Rango above anything I have seen from DreamWorks, and right up there with the best from Pixar, Animal Logic, Studio Ghibli and Disney. The animation in Rango is clean and crisp, yet it’s also dirty and rugged. As the technology behind animated movies progresses the one aspect that I feel only the best of the best can properly convey to the audience is texture. Rango is full of texture, no matter how clean the picture may look it feels like a tidal wave of sand and dirt just washed over the landscape. It’s easy to get lost in the visuals of Rango, and I confess that on more than one occasion I did get lost in the animated artistry on display.

What surprised me the most about Rango was how adult it was willing to be. Let’s face facts folks, in this day and age the great majority of animated film that come from North America are targeted at kids. Even those that have adult sensibilities behind them are still kid friendly. The same can not be said for Rango, this is a very adult picture, in tone, themes, dialogue, and character action. I’m glad that Rango is an adult movie, the world of North American animated productions could use a nice infusion of adult. I don’t say this to mean that Rango isn’t a movie that kids could watch and enjoy. Nor do I make this point to belittle more kid oriented animation (Odin knows I love me some kid oriented animation). I make this point because it is refreshing to watch an animated movie from North America that is adult and is proud of its adult sensibilities.

I had an inkling that I would be getting something special in Rango. I did not expect to fall in love with Rango as much as I did. That’s the joy of film, films can come out of nowhere and wallop you right across your dome. Rango is one such film, a special animated film that deserves to be seen for oh so many reasons. Heck, I may not have talked about it here, but Johnny Depp’s amazing vocal performance is by its lonesome a great reason to see Rango. The bottom line is that Rango is a movie that deserves to be seen, its visual artistry deserves to be explored. Rango is a great animated journey, it’s a great Western, it’s a great film, and that is all that matters.





9 responses to “Review: Rango (2011)

  1. It’s interesting that you call the films great strength it’s scattered nature. I actually delighted in how loose and over the place the film was. It took the film to some interesting places and kept things continually interested.

    The Adult sensibility did help as well. I love the wordplay and some of the more “mature” elements in the film. It’s a film you can tell was made to be entertaining to audiences of all ages instead of just catering to the kids.

    Right now it too is one of my favorite films of the year.

  2. Glad to see I’m not alone in my thoughts. 🙂

  3. I’m glad you liked it so well. It really is a unique film, and it has a lot of interesting ideas.

    In the end, though, I didn’t like it as well as you. It was okay, and it was packaged very well, but so many of the ideas came from other places that, although unique in how it put it together, it didn’t seem unique in what it was putting together… do you know what I mean?

    I need to give it another chance. Perhaps I’ll watch it again in another six months and see how I feel about it then.

  4. I do know what you mean, and it’s odd that aspect of the end product didn’t bother me. For me I think it was because I thought Verbinski was doing something interesting things with the ideas from other places. That’s in sharp contrast to other directors who also take ideas from other places, but don’t interest me in what they do with said ideas.

  5. I want a chameleon now! I love that Johnny Depp was the voice and actions of Rango! My kids keep asking me to get it again, so it will definitely be renting it soon. I’ve been using the Blockbuster Movie Pass for a while now and being able to rent movies and Blu-Rays like Rango whenever I want is the biggest positive about it. I can even stream many movies if I choose! DISH is practically giving it away too. Whether or not I was working for DISH, I would still have to have the Blockbuster Movie Pass. There is more than I could ever watch in a lifetime.

  6. Then you best get watching I guess.

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