Friday, June 10, 2011

Rango (2011)

The Accidental Hero

- A lost, lonely (some might say "deranged") lizard goes in search of himself and the spirit of the west in a western tale of humor, heart, and heroism that can only be summed up in one word: Rango!

A film world of animals personified inside a recognizable western film setting, Rango has a terrific cast of cleverly constructed CGI characters. Johnny Depp creates a very funny and sympathetic character in our hero, Rango, a charming terrarium-raised chameleon who is surely a one-act play away from a complete (and assuredly hilarious) mental breakdown. When unexpectedly tossed into a wild western town, Rango goes from awkward outsider to accidental hero as he searches for answers to the age old questions "Who am I?" and "Where do I fit into it all?"

In this Golden Age of animated films of which we currently live, Rango is expectedly hilarious and entertaining but also surprisingly meaningful. Some might declare the plot predictable but both its clever characters and thoughtful themes are what make the story absorbing. Rango also, while certainly a film for most ages, proves to have big enough cojones to not pander to the soccer mom carpool of casual animated filmgoers. A few scenes in particular demand a level of maturity to understand and appreciate that most animated films do not require.

Clearly, Rango is a western film first and a family-oriented animated film second. The odes to John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, High Noon, and others do not chime as strongly or as loudly as the robust western film aesthetic and attitude that director Gore Verbinski (The Ring (2002), the original Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy, The Weather Man (2005)) and company establish in the film.

Delivering a stunning and intricate piece of work, the CGI animation team create the film's amazing-looking characters and ruthless yet magnificent-looking western setting that are really quite unprecedented and unrivaled as far as things sit right now. Visual aid comes from the master cinematographer himself, Roger Deakins, who, having also done visual consulting on WALL-E (2008) and How To Train Your Dragon (2010), is becoming some kind of 21st Century animation sensei (and a welcomed one at that).

Accompanying the film's strong western themes and visuals is the unmistakably western-sounding but also altogether unique Hans Zimmer score. Parts of the film are actually told/reiterated through song (courtesy of a tawdry mariachi band of owls) and you will leave the film humming John & David Thum's title song "Rango."

Very rarely does one consider an animated film when thinking of the western genre (Fievel Goes West (1991) not withstanding). A story of identity, heroism, love, and the spirit of the west, the 2011 spring splash Rango might spur some to think differently about the place of animation within the western film genre.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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