Why Blend In When You Can Stand Out?

Gore Verbinski

Johnny Depp
Isla Fisher
Abigail Breslin
Ned Beatty
Alfred Molina
Bill Nighy

Every once in a while, a film will be released that is so bold, unique and overwhelmingly charming that it takes a considerable amount of time for me to form any real opinion other than, “I really, really enjoyed this movie.” Having said that, audiences will be immediately split between those that appreciate the generous pacing and disjointed storytelling – much in the same vain as Wes Anderson’s work – and those who simply won’t get it. Under the direction of Gore Verbinski, ILM’s first foray into animated feature films is simply stunning.. but you should know, first and foremost, this is in no way a children’s film.

The film subtly opens on a terrarium-dwelling chameleon [Depp] who, without any form of companionship and a rather overactive imagination, performs rehearsed melodramas with the various items around him – namely a tree, a dead bug, a clockwork fish and a decapitated doll. Following a freak road accident, his home is jettison and obliterated in the middle of the highway; it is here that the chameleon first meets a sage-like armadillo [Molina], who points him in the direction of the nearest town and informs him of the fabled spirit of the west. The chameleon quickly learns of the harsh unforgiving reality of life in the desert, as he is pursued by a hawk, forced to sleep in the wild and suffers vivid nightmares. Fortunately, his isolation is brief, following a chance meeting with Beans [Fisher] – a resident of the frontier town, Dirt. Finally reaching Dirt, the chameleon strolls into a saloon and utilises his anonymity to portray the role of a vicious gunslinger, named Rango, entertaining the townsfolk with tales of heroism and bravery. With each social challenge, Rango somehow manages to successfully blag his way through, even when challenged by a tough gila lizard (voiced by Ray Winstone) and ridding the town of a menacing hawk. With his new-found fame, Rango is taken to see the Mayor [Beatty], who offers him the position of sheriff. Having accepted the post, the populace look to their new lawman to uncover the mystery of the deadly water-shortage that’s crippling the town. As Rango gets closer to the truth, the most feared legend of the west, Rattlesnake Jake [Nighy] is summoned to challenge the sheriff’s claims.

As stated earlier, this is certainly not a children’s film – despite the presence of various talking animals; owing to the fact it is so beautifully layered, this movie’s target audience is quite obviously Western fans (specifically spaghetti and revisionist). Crafted with a distinct knowledge of the genre whilst perfectly paying homage to recognisably stand-out moments, character types and scenarios, Rango is a love-letter to the films of Sergio Leone. The narrative flow is one of such a leisurely pace that it really takes some time before the backbone of the plot really presents itself. This is, however, not a detrimental statement, but one of sheer admiration as so few films are able to captivate an audience without saying or doing much of anything and equally few deviate from the standard given that if you don’t ensnare the audience within the first ten minutes, you never will.

The three key selling points for this release are the memorable characters, the sublime visuals and the perfectly fitting score. First off, each and every citizen of Dirt is a carefully thought-out and designed individual with their own unique quirks and personality. Exceptionally voiced by the cast, either as an ensemble or individually, each character is deeply rich and an absolute delight to watch. Secondly we have ILM’s visual efforts; known for their CGI shots and effects, ILM have never ventured into fully-fledged animated releases and I genuinely cannot understand why. The rendering was gorgeous, the cinematography was jaw-dropping and the animation quality was easily comparable to Pixar’s best efforts. Finally, Hans Zimmer’s score is exquisitely suited, drawing heavily from Ennio Morricone’s distinct style.

Naturally, there are several negative aspects – to be honest, these points in no way impeded on my enjoyment of this release but they still contribute to the final score. As much as I applaud the singular story-telling style, it may be perceived as far too surreal for some to enjoy, verging on moments akin to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. On top of that, there’s the fact that by drawing upon the atypical western tale, some are going to give out that the plot is simply derivative and predictable. It’s also arguably dark for a ‘family film’ (despite my firm belief that just because a film is animated doesn’t automatically mean it is aimed at children), featuring death, hanging, perilous scenarios and very mild swearing. Personally, I felt this a nice step, similar to the films I grew up with in the 80s and 90s that pushed the constraints of the PG rating. The biggest bullet in the foot for this film was the way it was marketed, heavily selling the family film angle whilst simultaneously screaming JOHNNY DEPP’S IN THIS MOVIE as often as possible. Had they opted for a Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson style, maybe people would know what to expect and not berate the film for the more uncommon creative elements.

Ultimately, people are either going to moan because it’s too weird for them or they’re going to praise Rango for being a unique, challenging and wholly memorable breath of fresh air in the incredibly stagnant market of animated releases – largely depends on what kind of cinemagoer you are. In my opinion, this is not only a complex, detailed and impressive visual achievement but also an extraordinarily enjoyable experience.

Release Date:
4th March 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
I could happily call on large flowing action scenes or surrealism similar to the limbo-esque elements of the third Pirate Of The Caribbean film but two little cameo elements stuck in my mind the most. The first is the Spirit Of The West, who cemented the notion that Clint Eastwood has replaced John Wayne as the iconic cowboy. Secondly, a much more subtle reference: shortly after finding himself in the middle of the road, Rango is blown back-and-forth between cars and finally finds himself on the windscreen of an individual who is the spitting image of Hunter S. Thompson who, voiced by Depp, mumbles, “Another one!” Utterly brilliant reference.

Notable Characters:
Populated with a vast array of unique individuals it’s very difficult to single out any one character. Naturally, Johnny Depp does a phenomenal performance with the jittery, somewhat unstable Rango but Isla Fisher does an incredible job in her rather straightforward role, Ned Beatty channels John Huston in Chinatown beautifully and Timothy Olyphant does a decent job as the Spirit Of The West cameo, which was stupidly amusing. If forced, I would have to choose Bill Nighy’s menacing portrayal of Rattlesnake Jake. Not only for the voice but each of the various components that make up the character: the movements, the Lee Van Cleef style hat, the gattling gun for a rattle, all contribute to a thoroughly memorable villain.

Highlighted Quote:
“One bullet, huh? I tip my hat to you, one legend, to another”

In A Few Words:
“If you’re in the mood for a Leone-fuelled acid trip, there is no finer alternative than this unique animated film”

Total Score: