Rango

Cast:
Johnny Depp as Rango / Lars (voice)
Isla Fisher as Beans (voice)
Abigail Breslin as Priscilla (voice)
Ned Beatty as Mayor (voice)
Alfred Molina as Roadkill (voice)
Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake (voice)
Stephen Root as Doc / Merrimack / Mr. Snuggles (voice)
Harry Dean Stanton as Balthazar (voice)
Timothy Olyphant as Spirit of the West (voice)
Ray Winstone as Bad Bill (voice)
Ian Abercrombie as Ambrose (voice)
Gil Birmingham as Wounded Bird (voice)
Claudia Black as Angelique (voice)
Blake Clark as Buford (voice)
James Ward Byrkit as Waffles / GordyPapa / Joad / Cousin Murt / Curlie Knife Attacker / Rodent Kid (voice)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Summary:
Amazing animation and perfect performances make “Rango” the first ‘must see’ movie of 2011. Parents should heed the PG rating, though.

Story:
After an accident on a highway, household pet / aspiring actor / chameleon Lars finds himself stranded in the middle of the Mohave Desert. With no water or survival skills, he is exposed to the hazards of the wild. He eventually runs into the beautiful rancher Beans who leads him to the town of Dirt. There, Lars finds himself in a unique position. He takes the opportunity to create for himself an entirely new persona – Rango.

Rango introduces himself as the most brave, skilled, and deadly hero of the West. And it just so happens that the town of Dirt is in need of a hero. They are plagued by a marauding hawk, a notorious gunslinger by the name of Rattlesnake Jake, and the mysterious disappearance of all of their water. Can Rango help them or will be exposed as the fraud that he is?

“Rango” is rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.

What Worked:
We have our first great movie of 2011 and it sets the bar quite high for the rest of the year. Pixar, watch your backs!

Where to start? Well, how about the animation. The team at ILM really knocked this one out of the park. Everything about the animation is stunning. First of all, there’s the character design. They take all of your familiar desert creatures and give them unique looks and characteristics. From horned toads to owls to Gila monsters, every character in this movie is designed in loving detail. The performances are also perfectly done. They really captured Johnny Depp’s quirky mannerisms of Rango. It’s like Depp squeezed into a really skinny chameleon costume. The details in the animation are also amazing. You see a little bit of translucency in Rango’s scales. You see detail in every scale on Rattlesnake Jake. It’s all technically impressive but the artistry is also emphasized. We have beautiful scenes of Rango walking on dunes at night. We see a stunning and hypnotic crash scene at the beginning of the film. “Rango” takes the time to stop, take a breath, and let you appreciate the beauty of the desert. It’s not all eye candy just thrown on the screen. In short, ILM has a lot to be proud of in “Rango.” We knew they were technically competent in pulling off amazing visuals. This reinforces what they are artistically capable of doing.

“Rango” also impressed me as, at times, I felt like I was watching a classic Looney Tunes cartoon. Some of the chases between Rango and the Hawk reminded me of the Coyote and the Roadrunner. Another bit where Rango accidentally burps fire onto the face of Bad Bill reminded of Bugs Bunny facing off with Yosemite Sam. Take all of those Looney Tunes gags and mix them with Pixar heart and artistry and you get a feel for what you’ll find in “Rango.” And just as an added surprise, they throw in a bit of a wicked sense of humor like you might find in a lot of modern cartoons. For example, the movie opens with an armadillo that has been run over by a car. He’s literally roadkill and has a gaping tire track through his midsection. Rango has an entire conversation with this character nearly cut in half and the audience cringes as he does so. “Rango” wastes no time whatsoever letting you know the movie has a twisted sense of humor.

It goes without saying that the cast is stellar. As already mentioned, ILM perfectly captured the great performance by Johnny Depp as Rango. He’s lovable, quirky, and funny. And just like all of Depp’s other roles, it is utterly unique compared to anything he has done before. I’ve always said Depp was a chameleon in his performances. Now he’s literally one. Isla Fisher is also great as Beans, Rango’s love interest. Bill Nighy is also impressive as Rattlesnake Jake. He nails the Southern accent to the point that you don’t realize it’s him until you see the credits. Ray Winstone is also awesome as Bad Bill (though his accent doesn’t quite fit the setting as much as it does the character). Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, and Alfred Molina also offer great performances.

I have always said that a truly great family film entertains both adults and children equally, and “Rango” does that. While kids will laugh at the antics of the animals, adults will appreciate some of the in-jokes. We get a hilarious cameo by Hunter S. Thompson on the freeway. The Spirit of the West is basically Clint Eastwood (perfectly imitated by Timothy Olyphant). ILM even manages to insert a subtle “Star Wars” joke in a campfire scene. Kids won’t get all of those in-jokes, but adults will be eternally grateful to the creators for including them. If us parents are paying the tickets prices, we like to be entertained too.

I also need to add some praise for Hans Zimmer and his impressive score. It perfectly captures the Western feel and the owl mariachi band sets the comedic tone throughout the entire film.

What Didn’t Work:
A lot of people gripe about 3D movies these days, but I think “Rango” is one movie that could have really done some cool stuff with the effect. Whether it’s Rango standing alone in the desert or all sorts of critters flying through the air, there’s a lot that 3D could have enhanced in this movie. I think it also would have really helped audiences appreciate the fine detail in the sets and character designs.

You may notice that this movie is rated PG for “rude humor, language, action and smoking.” Parents should take note of that rating because there really is a lot of language and “rude humor” compared to, say, a Pixar movie. “Hell” seems to be the word of choice in this film in a variety of forms. At one point Beans yells at a character, “Go to hell!” Some parents will have no problem with this. Other parents will not really want their toddler repeating it to Grandma. As for the ‘rude humor,’ there’s a prostate exam joke that they take to the point that a character pulls out a rubber glove and is ready to do an examination. (Now THAT you will find in a Pixar movie. See “Cars.”) In another scene, Rango looks down at the chest of a decapitated Barbie doll and asks, “Are those real?” The movie dances back and forth across that line of going ‘too far,’ but the location of the line is different for every audience member. In short, read the rating and heed it based on your personal tastes. For me, I thought they could have dialed a couple of the jokes back a tad considering it’s a family film.

The Bottom Line:
Even if you don’t have kids, make a point to go out and see “Rango.” You won’t regret it. We’re not that far into 2011, but it’s the best movie so far this year and it looks like it will be for quite some time. You’ll be seeing “Rango” mentioned at the next Academy Awards.

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