Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Rango

Dir. Gore Verbinski
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 107mins

It’s the curious fad of live action directors making animated films. Sure, Roger Zemeckis merged the two in his 1988 masterpiece Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it wasn’t until The Polar Express in 2004 where he jumped on the train – pun unintended – completely. Quentin Tarantino briefly segued into the realm of manga during Kill Bill, Richard Linklater experimented with it on two occasions, George Miller won an Oscar with the tap-dancing penguins of Happy Feet, whilst Wes Anderson and Tim Burton have taken time out of their own whimsical quirky lives to make Oscar-nominated stop motion animation films. Is it just that these directors felt the domain of animation was the best way to tell their stories, or is it – as I suspect – that the world of “cartoons” have come such a ways that they are routinely watched, studied and discussed with more vigour and enthusiasm than most live action work?

Joining the ranks now is Gore Verbinski, whose first animated venture appears to be a bizarre mash-up of resume - Mousehunt, The Mexican and Pirates of the Caribbean. In Rango we have a subversive pseudo-parody western starring the voice of Johnny Depp – the most alive he’s been, on screen or not, in quite a while – as a chameleon lizard who stumbles upon the plot from Chinatown in the desert. There is philosophical roadkill, jokes about promiscuous inter-species sex, references to High Noon, Salvador Dali, weird walking cactus, Las Vegas and a killer rattlesnake. Oh, and a character cameo worthy of a double take. And I’m not even talking about the Hunter S. Thompson moment that will baffle adults just as much as it will children.

Rango is at its greatest during its first hour, where gags fly thick and fast and the action is exciting. Within minutes of being introduced to Depp’s pet lizard character he is waxing philosophical with a half-dead armadillo (voiced by Alfred Molina). No sooner is he running for his life inside an empty bottle from the claws of a carnivorous bird and then making cute with a weird orphan (voiced by Isla Fisher) before becoming the new sheriff in a dying desert town.

The plot moves so quickly at times, with so many characters fluttering in and out of the action that the film’s last act of self-discovery – as is common in animation – feels like its dragging its feet. Perhaps Verbinski and screenwriter John Logan (with story credit going to Verbinski and James Ward Byrkit) didn’t anticipate how these two different paces would co-exist, which they don’t quite.

What does work though is the animation. The first of its kind from Industrial Light and Magic – the visual effects house that’s the home of George Lucas, this is certainly a step up or seven from Nickelodeon and Paramount’s previous efforts Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Barnyard. The animation work here is simply stunning, as you would expect from ILM, with every crevice of Rango’s skin, every curve in the dehydrated terrain and every breath of the wind looking like a million bucks (or $135million). It easily rivals Pixar’s Cars and Wall-E as the most gorgeous computer animation ever created. That Roger Deakins was hired as “visual consultant” probably helped somewhat with the unconventional animation angles and viewpoints as well as conception of shots. The look of Rango truly is something to behold. So much so that even when the story lags, there is still plenty of latch on to. B+

1 comment:

Tony said...

LOVED this movie -- I agree, it kind of dragged by the end, but it was still really well done. Better too much excitement than none at all.