Rango (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Rango (2011)

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ANDREW LIKEI was waiting for the film that would finally expose my fear of naked mole rats and Rango delivers that in spades.  It turns out that naked mole rats are the kind of hardened criminals that you'd find in any quality Western.  The key there is "quality Western", because as inventive and funny as Rango is it never forgets the long legacy of gun slingin' anti-heroes that came before it.

Rango features the voice of Johnny Depp as the Lizard With No Name.  When we first come across him he's enjoying a  moment in his glass cage with his only friends; a mannequin missing most of her pieces, a large wind up goldfish, a tree and a dead cockroach.  He keeps sane by living vicariously through stage productions that he puts on alone, pretending to be the world's greatest lover or free range adventurer.  After making a remark about an ironic series of events leading him to prove his worth, a bump on the road sends his cage flying out the back of the car and onto the hot asphalt of the desert road.

It's hot, so hot that his body freezes up and sheds it's skin twice to deal with the heat.  He meets an armadillo who bears a striking resemblance to Don Quixote and sends the lizard into the desert to search for the Spirit of the West.  After some close calls with a very angry buzzard he meets Beans (Isla Fisher), a desert iguana who's prone to freezing when threatened or nervous.  When he finally gets to the town Dirt the lizard realizes that he can be anyone he wants to be now and adopts the persona of Rango, a Clint Eastwood type if he had dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin, and is appointed Sheriff of Dirt by the Mayor (Ned Beatty).

He's doin' his right level best to blend in...

Rango takes steps to pay tribute to a number of classic Westerns and uses those tropes to tell a ridiculously fun story.  There are a number of sequences that recall The Searchers, A Fistful of Dollars, Shane...it's a veritable bonanza of "spot the well incorporated reference".  I really liked the way that Rango acknowledged the way the Western seems to ebb and flow out of view but always come back as part of our collective mythos.  The movie also shows this by providing Rango with a chorus of Mariachi singers that detail his actions but make dire predictions about his future that aren't exactly prone to coming true.

I also enjoyed the incredibly creative character design that went into Rango.  There isn't a traditionally "pretty" figure amongst the denizens of Dirt.  You have Rango himself, who's always oddly contorted with his bent neck and misshapen eyes.  Then there are the townsfolk, like a spider with techno goggles to cover it's many eyes or the little possum that never blinks, and they all have a unique feature and style about them in how they interact with one another.  They pop off the screen in a cacophony of gorgeous colors and landscapes that look painted at times.

The humor in Rango runs from traditional slapstick to jokes that are macabre and others that seem fueled by a bad acid trip.  There are no punches pulled because life in the town is hard and quite a few characters die over the course of the film.  But it's handled in many weird and funny ways, such as when Rango asks about the fate of the previous Sherriff's and a quick pan to the graveyard reveals the last Sheriff's famous last words "Hold my beer, watch this."

Rango has a large and colorful cast that all get a moment to shine.

This is by far Gore Verbinski's best work and it looks like it was his baby.  He acted as director, story producer, and executive producer for the film.  Then there's the screenplay, so wonderfully aware of the way Westerns create their own mythologies (just listen to Rango detail how he took out seven brothers with one bullet) and staying true to that tradition.

2010 was a great year for animation, even when there were issues elsewhere, and if Rango points in the direction that we're headed this year then we're in for a treat.  Already it's one of the smartest, most exciting, and positively surreal experiences of 2011 and we're just getting started.  I'll stay armed with Rango's optimism that things can only go up from here, but that lovable little cowboy is gonna be a tough one to beat.

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Rango (2011)

Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Screenplay by John Logan.
Featuring the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher and many others.

Posted by Andrew

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