Genre: CG Animation
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, Ray Winstone, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Beth Grant, Stephen Root
RunTime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.rangomovie.com/
Opening Day: 10 March 2011
Synopsis: The story of a chameleon with an identity crisis.
Proving that there is no such genre which cannot be turned into an animation with the right creative imagination, Gore Verbinski’s “Rango” is probably one of the first ever animated Westerns- and what a giddily delightful burst of imagination it is! Indeed, there is so much to admire and appreciate about “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Verbinski’s latest reteaming with Johnny Depp that multiple viewings is probably a must.
The titular character voiced by Depp is a domesticated lizard living in a terrarium with a broken doll and a wind-up orange plastic fish. When we first encounter him, Rango is dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and acting out scenes from Shakespeare to kill time; though in between reading the Bard, he also displays a propensity for soliloquies. It turns out that Rango’s aquarium is in fact on a moving vehicle, and a sudden swerve leaves the coddled pet chameleon stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert ready to begin his journey of self-discovery.
Right from the start, it is clear that John Logan’s screenplay (working from a story by Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit and Logan himself) isn’t going to be of the run-of-the-mill family-friendly type. Indeed, Rango’s journey turns out to be a surprisingly mature and thoughtful one, as Logan shows that he isn’t afraid to delve into complex themes of identity and existentialism- one of the oft-repeated catchphrases in the movie is the appropriately deep saying “nobody can walk out of his own story”.
That’s not to say Logan has put aside his sense of humour here, though the jokes also tend to be geared towards a more adult audience. Yes, one doubts that the kids will find the suitably titled armadillo Roadkill (Alfred Molina), whom Rango meets in the middle of a busy highway, amusing; or a fellow desert creature cursing Rango “son of a -----” with the last word replaced by the shriek of a hawk hilarious- but Logan’s deliciously quirky story comes with sharp dialogue and distinctive wit.
Both are clearly evident in every turn of the story, starting from Rango’s arrival in the town called Dirt. Populated by a menagerie of lizards, rodents, amphibians, reptiles and other desert creatures, Rango proceeds to impress the desperate citizens of the town with his made-up tale of derring-do, and promptly gets himself appointed sheriff. His first task? To solve the town’s most pressing problem- water.
Water is pretty much Dirt’s most valuable resource, not only their currency of trade but also the commodity which makes up their reserve in the Bank. Of late though, it’s been especially hard to come by, and it soon occurs to the citizens that someone’s been stealing their precious supply. Rango's closest equivalent to a sidekick is a fellow lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher) and she suspects it has something to do with the town's Mayor (Ned Beatty), a wizened, wheelchair-bound turtle who tells Rango on their first meeting that controlling the town’s water supply is akin to controlling the townsfolk.
There are definite plot similarities to Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic “Chinatown” and indeed they are not coincidental. With “Rango”, Logan and Verbinski pay homage to the classic spaghetti Westerns from John Ford to Sergio Leone- there’s even an appearance by the Man with No Name (voiced here by Timothy Olyphant doing his best gruff Clint Eastwood impersonation). Particularly notable too is Verbinski’s tribute to the helicopter attack in “Apocalypse Now” in his staging of a thrilling action sequence with flying bats- and this as well as other subtler references will certainly please film buffs.
But Verbinski’s greatest accomplishment is in creating a fascinating world intricately designed with so much rich detail. Working with his “Pirates” visual effects wizard Mark McCreery as production designer, Verbinski’s Dirt town is steeped in the classic iconography of the West- bars, billiards, and saloons- while simultaneously unique in its variety of denizens. Industrial Light and Magic was behind the animation- this their maiden effort- and they have done a beautiful job with the characters.
Whether reptile or amphibian, each creature is distinctively rendered, and despite the scraggly look on each of them, there is more than enough loving detail in each sets them apart. Credit must also go to veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins who serves as visual consultant, and gives the desert environment the same kind of visual dynamism that he captured in the Coens’ Westerns “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit”.
“Rango” also stands out from other animations by having its actors record their voices in costumes and actual sets together, rather than record their respective parts in sound booths- and Verbinski’s decision has paid off handsomely. The delivery by the ensemble cast (including Depp, Molina, Beatty, Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton as the patriarch of a rodent gang and Bill Nighy as the menacing rattlesnake Jake) is sharp and well-timed, and lend that added zing to Logan’s dialogue.
And certainly with Logan's uniquely quirky and mature story, Verbinski’s lively storytelling, as well as Johnny Depp and the rest of the ensemble cast’s outstanding voice work, “Rango” is a rollicking Wild West adventure packed with humour, wit, and excitement. Remember that burst of creative imagination that you saw in the first “Pirates”? Well, Depp and Verbinski have brought that same spark to this latest collaboration, and their newfangled take on the Old West is a delightful burst of creative imagination that will go down as one of the most original works of animation you'll see this year.
(Wacky and delightful, this Wild West adventure is a giddy burst of creative imagination unlike anything you’ve ever seen before)
Review by Gabriel Chong
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