Monday, March 7, 2011

Love: Rango

Rango is an animated film that's nothing like your average storybook.  It's an animated film that doesn't bother with candy colored confections, 3D gimmicks, or the infantilization of the adult half of its audience.  It's wonderfully gutsy, gloriously verbose, supremely oddball, and never bothers playing down to the ten and unders.  You'd never know it from the cloying advertisements, but Rango is more than just talking animals in cowboy hats.  Much more.  It's a damn good revisionist Western just as much as it's a smart, surprisingly mature comedy.  The combination of these elements with dazzlingly intricate computer generated animation makes for a film that rivals Pixar as it trips steadily along in a direction that feels unfettered by contemporary Disney's family friendly standards.  The animated heroes of Rango spit, smoke, drink, cuss a little bit, and shoot guns like they're going off the market; it's strictly PG, of course, but a PG that doesn't pretend the world is populated by villains who only drink smoothies and cowboys who never say damn.
The film is an impressive feat; style and substance that finds unbelievable humanity in cold blooded reptiles and makes you believe that it's possible for a lizard to walk around with a full head of curly auburn ringlets.  It's the latest directorial effort of Gore Verbinski, who's most well known for the first three chapters of The Pirates of the Caribbean series.  In some respects, Rango bears some similarities to the off kilter direction the third Pirates installment was headed, and not solely due to the presence of Johnny Depp.  It's a hallucinatory epic with a larger than life captain at its helm.  As the voice of Rango, the little Hawaiian shirted chameleon that could, Depp puts in a better character actor performance than he has in quite awhile.  There's emotional vibrancy in his voice, a real range that's positively manic and patented Depp.  Depp finds Rango's heart and his egomaniacal swagger, he takes the character off the page and transforms him.  Rango is just a pet lizard, a creature launched from his aquarium delusions into the very wild deserts of the golden west.  One thing leads to another and he's the new sheriff in a barely hanging on ghost town of odd looking desert animals. Jack rabbits, ground squirrels, rattlesnakes, tortoises, all struggling to survive in a serious drought.  It's typical western fare: newcomer in a small town, a change of regime, some underdog heroism.  The movie has a very clear reverence for the genre, more so than Fievel Goes West, for example.  Rango is less silly appropriation and more genuinely interested in inverting Sergio Leone.  It's some weird combination of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and True Grit on acid, and that's a beautiful thing.  

I suspect Rango is the type of film that will divide filmgoers into camps of love and hate.  This isn't a movie for the crowd who finds Shrek's humor cutting edge.  It's weird, wonderful and all too willing to go the extra mile, to step out on that limb, to raise its freak flag in the midst of a swarm of gatling gun equipped bats.  There's an artistry to the film that sometimes relishes those barren landscapes and sunsets with the enthusiasm of a cinematographer on a John Ford or Coen Brothers film.  There are a whole lotta moments more There Will Be Blood than Toy Story 3.  For some, this will be boring.  For children, the 75% of the humor will sail straight over their heads.  The film's dialogue throws around five syllable SAT words and a good portion of its characters could probably keep up with Jesse Eisenberg wielding an Aaron Sorkin script.  Point being: this ain't really a kids movie.  Adult cinephiles, however, particularly those wary of the saccharine and tolerant of the bizarre, are likely to find something to truly love.  I have no complaints.  To me, this was a truly original piece of animation more deserving of gushing praise than certain Pixar sequels.  It might not play to your base emotional impulses, but it captures something sublimely imaginative.  

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