Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. As last year wound down we got more and more elaborate glimpses at what Gore Verbinski's been up to post Pirates. On the surface a CG Animated movie about a chameleon doesn't seem to be a logical step for the guy who hit it big with a movie about a dead girl that crawls out of a well and kills you, but ask anyone who has seen more than 30 seconds of Rango and they'll tell you that tonally and visually this flick is right in line with Verbinski's previous films.
I haven't seen much of the film, just a smattering of scenes, but this review really has me jonesing to see the film. From what I've seen, from what I've heard from those in the industry, Rango looks like a winner. I can't wait to watch it myself. In the meantime, here's a reader review!
Maybe it his is a huge honking success we'll finally get Verbinski's BIOSHOCK movie!
Hey Harry! Long time reader, first time writer (to the site, at least). I was lucky enough to get to check out an early screening of Rango yesterday out here in Phoenix, so I thought I'd write up my review and send it in to you guys. Hopefully you guys can use it. Anyways, here it is.
I think it’s safe to say that a subtle shift is occurring in the world of animation. For anyone who has seen Akira, anything by Hayao Miyazaki, or even Fantasia for that matter (just to name a few), it’s pretty clear that animation is capable of being anything, of encompassing any kind of material. And yet still so many people are stuck in the mindset that animated films are “just kid’s movies.” That kind of thinking has always baffled me, even if I understand where it’s coming from. We live in a Disney world, and even though I love classic Disney fairy tales as much as the next guy (possibly even more so) I am deeply aware of the kind of expectations they have impressed upon any animated fare. But with the rise of films like Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3, movies that each push the boundaries of storytelling in American animation in different ways, animation finally seems to be to spreading its wings with audiences thankfully eating it up.
Enter Rango, a film I would not ever deem to be a kid’s film in a million years. Sure, it’s about a chameleon going through an identity crisis as he wanders his way into a small western town inhabited by all kinds of desert critters, including a trigger happy Gila monster, a Native American crow, and a tortoise mayor, but in many ways this is the most adult animated film I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s smart, it’s dark, and above all, it’s dangerous.
At least it feels that way. The film is full of some surprisingly dark imagery and situations, and even though nothing explicit is ever actually put on screen, it sure as hell feels like it is, which ostensibly gives the film some nice heft. Just look at the main villain of the film, Rattlesnake Jake. The way the townsfolk describe him before he even makes his grand appearance is downright frightening, comparing him to the grim reaper, death incarnate. And once he finally does come to town, he’s terrifying, a humongous beast compared to the small size of the rest of the townspeople, armed with a truly threatening machine gun attachment at the end of his rattler. No, you don’t really see him kill anybody or anything onscreen (not violently, at least), but you don’t have to. He’s a menacing creature, the type of dangerous villain that is hard to come by in family films nowadays, and it’s exactly that sense of danger, the feeling that things may not actually work out, that Rango may just end up losing in the end, that pervades through the film and that made me fall in love with it in such a way that I was not expecting.
But nothing could have done that more so than the way in which the film simply carries itself. There is no doubt about it; Rango is a real western through and through. From the photography, to the thrilling shootouts and chases, to the immersive mystery about the town’s missing water, complete with its surprisingly ballsy reveal, the film takes itself deadly seriously. It does have its fair share of clever gags, but they’re just that: clever. They don’t feel out of place or thrown in just to alleviate the tension, but rather all come across organically, as part of the world and the characters. A couple jokes do fall flat here and there, but those are a small minority, and even then, the film seems less interested in being a comedy than being a kickass western.
Ultimately, though, the heart of the film lies entirely with the character of Rango and his spiritual journey. And yes, you read that right. The film isn’t just about the wacky antics that a chameleon gets into, a la the traditional fish out of water story. The story instead focuses very much on the idea of finding yourself. Rango is a lost soul, literally nameless until he winds up in the town of Dirt, unsure of what or who he is. And when he walks into a saloon full of creatures who know nothing about him, he takes advantage of the opportunity presented to make a name for himself, to finally be someone. It just so happens that in doing so he ends up in over his head. It’s a great story with a great message about finding your place in the world and being who you want to be and as a result, Rango’s transformation by the end of the film feels completely and totally earned.
It’s exciting to see Gore Verbinski back in the saddle and retaking the reins as well as he does. He and his team have created a wonderfully realized world in Rango and the town of Dirt, keeping all of the animals to scale and making the town feel like it came out of a classic western, but with little flourishes that make it uniquely its own thing. Rango will be walking down the road, passing the saloon, the bank, and all of a sudden he passes an outhouse made out of a discarded Pepto-Bismol bottle. It’s little quirks and visual gags like that that really make the film stand out that much more, and thus earning my love that much quicker.
Verbinski never tips his hand with the film though, keeping a very fine balance between the light and the heavy, the real and the surreal, the culmination of which results in the two most beautifully constructed scenes in the film, one involving Rango’s journey across some extremely rough terrain (you’ll know the scene when you see it) and one involving the Spirit Of The West, a scene so delightful that it would be a crime for anyone to spoil it. And it is because of this balance that I would not call Rango a kid’s film in any sense of the term. I don’t even want to call it a family film, though I’m sure it would play well amongst parents with older children. Instead, I would much rather just call it what it is: a western, and a damn fine one at that.
Nickelodeon is taking a ballsy chance with this film. It’s not at all like the trailers make it out to be. It’s a smart film, and even though it’s not nearly as extreme as Akira or Fritz The Cat or any explicitly adult animation, it’s nonetheless an animated film that pushes the boundaries in all the right ways, and I can only hope that enough people will see it so Nickelodeon or other studios might actually continue to take these kinds of chances on animated films. This isn’t your run of the mill animated fluff. Rango is something special.
If you do use it, just call me Humberto.
Thanks a bunch, Harry. And get better soon!