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Wednesday, March 23, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Rango

Whenever I see a trailer for a new animated movie that isn't from Pixar (and as a parent I see pretty much all of those trailers sooner or later), my initial default reaction is a strange kind of suspicious yet dismissive eye-roll. I should probably stop doing that, because it's not really fair. Besides, have you seen the trailer for the next Pixar movie? Oh, my gaaaawd.

That was also my reaction to the Rango trailer, but as with most of these animated movies, I actually ended up liking it. It may look like a Western with talking animals, but there's quite a bit more going on than that. It's really more about a chameleon with an identity crisis. Get it? A chameleon with an identity crisis! Ha ha!

After a musical prologue by an owl mariachi band who will serve as the Mexican Chorus for the proceedings, the movie opens with a lizard voiced by Johnny Depp grappling with a really well-animated case of existential angst (actually dramaturgical writer's block, which to a screenwriter amounts to the same thing), before being unceremoniously flung into…well, the rest of the movie.

And so begins the Hero's Journey, with all the mythic Campbell elements those capitalized words imply. The movie doesn't properly start until the lizard makes it to the tiny, archetypal Old West town of Dirt, and, through a combination of bluster and luck, quite literally makes a name for himself, getting hailed as a hero and appointed sheriff (a job with the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer). From there, Rango tap-dances up and down Maslow's hierarchy for the rest of the film, and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that most of the needs on that pyramid end up getting met. It's a kids' movie, after all.

But only just. Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, because why not cast a British voice as a Wild West gunslinger?) nearly drove M. Edium out of the theater, and I'm pretty sure M. Edium didn't really follow the plot any better than I did. Even though the town is in crisis, the movie keeps insisting that it's Rango's story, which must be great news to the townspeople who are counting on him to save their furry and/or scaly asses. The mystery behind what's happening to the town is barely dealt with, in comparison to the time (and a rather witty, if not entirely sensical, Timothy Olyphant cameo) lavished on Rango's final trial of endurance.

But then, this is a Gore Verbinski film, which means the story itself is distantly subordinate to how it's told. Be sure to expect all of the stylistic restraint you enjoyed in Pirates of the Caribbean. There are plenty of eye-popping, fast-moving, server-crashing action sequences to punctuate Rango's long periods of whatever, and it's all so gratuitously detailed, from the giant cast of critters and varmints to every dusty, sand-pitted surface, you sometimes want to say, "Enough already!" The style extends to the soundtrack, which is so sweeping and iconic that I both think it flirts with plagiarism and intend to recommend it to my dad. Plus it features the definitive bluegrass version of "Ride of the Valkries."

Remember how Johnny Depp spent all those years trying to subvert his own teen-idol image by making himself look as weird as possible in as many movies as he could? He's outdone himself here, playing a character with individually-articulated goggle eyes, a neck shaped like a less-than sign, and a long row of teeth creepier than Depp's own (come on, you know it's true). But alas, this movie proves that not all of his charisma comes from his looks. I suspect that Captain Jack Sparrow wasn't the role that got him on cereal boxes because of the costume and the guyliner and the beard-dreads, but the voice. Rango uses that same voice, but with the Keef Richards drawl replaced by a Western one. Sorry, Depp, you're still charismatic even when you're green, scaly, and molting. Sucks to be you.

That voice is also the main reason why Rango wouldn't be better if you watched it dubbed into a different language without subtitles. It's a visual deluge that makes an effort to be about something…but maybe about too much.

posted by M. Giant 7:40 PM 2 comments


"a job with the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer." Hee-larious!

By Anonymous Sara, at March 24, 2011 at 5:45 AM  

I really expected to Like Rango based on the reviews, but I didn't care for it and neither did my daughters. It was kind of gross, actually--that one guy with the arrow in his eye? Ick.

I did get excited during the Star Wars homage, and the previous sheriffs' tombstone epitaphs cracked me up: "Hold my beer and watch this!"

By Blogger Leigh, at March 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM  

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