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Reader Humberto calls Gore Verbinski's RANGO smart, dark and a kickass western!

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!

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 10, 2011, 4:25 a.m. CST

    Loved the trailer

    by monkeygiles

    Looking forward to this one

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 4:41 a.m. CST

    1994: In animation school they discouraged us from drawing humans...

    by Toruk_Makto

    they said it was too 'ambitious'. You should keep your figures simple and bouncy. I said, "well how the hell are we supposed to learn how to animate people?" They said, "well, we don't really animate here anyway, we just do layouts and storyboards, we have the actual 'animation' done overseas..." my middle finger has been raised ever since...

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 6:05 a.m. CST

    When you gotta shoot, SHOOT - don't talk!

    by Larry Knowles

    That's my favorite quote from my favorite western. (It has nothing to do with the above Rango review (which was a very well-written review BTW) so don't waste your time looking for a connection. Also, Harry, would you like to go see this with me when it comes out? I'll pay! Your loving brother, Larry

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 7:05 a.m. CST

    Johnny Depp's Involvement = Movie Will Be Dark Somehow

    by Darkknight37

    The Pirate movies offer the lightest of his performances, but Depp always inserts himself into a character that is dark himself, or in a very murky setting. No surprises here, but nice to see that an animated movie has taken on what seems to be his flavor in movies.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 8:28 a.m. CST

    It's About Damn Time...

    by BeyondStatic

    ... someone took mainstream American animation seriously! Thank goodness for Verbinski and Depp! Can't wait to see this film!

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 8:31 a.m. CST

    Clearly a plant due to the non-stop praise

    by Daniel2010

    There's nothing 'critical' about the review, nor does he quote one line of dialogue.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:08 a.m. CST

    I'm reay

    by D.Vader

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:08 a.m. CST

    I'm reay

    by D.Vader

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:10 a.m. CST

    I'm really jonesin' to see this

    by D.Vader

    It looks like a very cool western with some great animation. And I'm a big fan of Gore Verbinski. Id say he's successfully tackled a wider range of genres more than any other filmmaker working at the moment.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:11 a.m. CST


    by D.Vader

    Quoting dialogue is not a prerequisite when trying to prove you saw a movie. Unless you were just being facetious, that's hardly damning evidence against the guy.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:30 a.m. CST


    by blackwood

    Danny Boyle has successfully tackled more genres than Verbinski. Which is neither here nor there, really, because Verbinski is great and I'm a fan. But still, let me nerd at you. American animation needs more risk-takers. It's a limitless artform. I feel like BEOWULF set us back.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 9:41 a.m. CST

    Wow.. Chlorophyll Overdose

    by Big_Daddy_Nero

    Holy Shnikeys Why do studios do this? This movie has been getting nothing but positive buzz from what I have seen. Is it just that they think people will dismiss it as 'just another kids flick' and that it won't make money? so they need to put out these PR-Releases disguised as 'reader reviews', to try to get adults to give it a chance? Or have the focus groups and test audiences been giving off bad vibes that we haven't heard about? It just seems to me that when a studio does something so fundamentally dishonest as to send out a press release and tell us with a straight face that it is an actual reader review, it is an indication of 1) the studio does not believe in their movie, and feels they have to lie or to try to 'trick' audiences into seeing it, and 2) that they think their customers are stupid. Now I fully admit that I may simply be totally wrong, and that maybe this 'Humberto' simply went to a great deal of trouble to write a 'review' that wound up looking like a plant. And if so, then fine, mea culpa. But damn, that was the most plantified-sounding 'review' I have ever seen.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 10:07 a.m. CST

    Love Verbinski!!

    by Shady Drifter

    I love the vibrant energy of Verbinski's films... from Mouse Hunt to the Pirates movies... even The Mexcian had a lot to like (except for the parts with Julia Roberts who I felt was really mis-cast and I really hated the character she played - Pitt and Gandolfino were excellent though). Really looking forward to this. Surely will see it at a cinema.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 10:22 a.m. CST


    by Rev. Slappy

    Isn't this the first time ILM has done an all CGI animated film?

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 10:28 a.m. CST

    Why "Plant"?

    by blackwood

    All the buzz around RANGO has been pretty positive so far. This is a review that maintains that buzz. It's completely in line with all the other stuff I've heard about the film. Why assume it's a plant? Why are some geeks are so anxious to prove how 'savvy' they are that in the face of all available evidence they will pursue being cynical idiots?

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 10:28 a.m. CST

    anything happening with The Goon movie?

    by rben

    he asked, waiting patiently....

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 10:45 a.m. CST

    The character design is what intrigues me

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    Instead of the usual cute and cuddly critters (South Park's sadistic Christmas Citters aside) we get some weird and distinctive work. If anything will make a great looking Bluray. And this is not in 3D, is it? If not, thanks for bucking the trend, Gore.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 11:54 a.m. CST

    @ blackwood

    by Lemure_v2

    Like, duh! This is AICN. If a film gets a positive early review it's a plant. If AICN likes a film it's probably shit and they sent Harry toys. If AICN doesn't like a film it's because they didn't send Harry toys. You new here?

  • Feb. 10, 2011, noon CST

    Five years and counting, lemure_v2.

    by blackwood

    And yet, I am still surprised by the brainless, lazy cynicism of alleged film enthusiasts.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 12:05 p.m. CST

    rev. slappy

    by Shaner Jedi

    Yes. This is ILM's first animated feature. After many years of development on Frankenstein vs. Wolfman, XO for Spielberg, and a few other animated films that went nowhere, they've finally done it.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 12:30 p.m. CST

    Like a greenhouse in here....

    by kidicarus

    Heh, heh, get it, like a plant? Zing! Let's see: 1) Constant flow of praise 2) No real criticism 3) Generic plot details 4) "Zany" made-up name to "disguise" oneself Yeah, greenery.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 1:45 p.m. CST


    by VXXXJesterXXXV

    I agree with you completely. It never fails if there is a review sent to this site that is positive in anyway the idiots start the plant shit. Hell I'm surprised this shit hasn't stopped readers from even wasting their time with sending reviews, since it seems half the people here do nothing but say someone is full of shit. I mean god forbid someone enjoy a movie and write in to share their opinion. To those who do still take the time to send in early reviews, it is appreciated by some of us.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 1:45 p.m. CST

    Oy, this really does have a plant-ish vibe

    by WriteForTheEdit

    Read that first paragraph and see how much it differs in tone from the rest. "Enter Rango..."? Really? Whatever. I'm still psyched to see this movie, even though I don't think Depp is much of a voice actor. I don't find anything distinctive about his voice at all.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 3:18 p.m. CST

    Big fan of Verbinski ever since the brilliant Mouse Hunt!

    by The_Genteel_Gentile

    Although The Mexican really sucked somehow... except for the Morricone-esque score from Alan Silvestri. That was awesome. But I think the reason The Mexican sucked must have something to do with hitmen-with-a-heart-of-gay and the horse-mouthed hags that love them... or at least try to adopt them as a mascot accessory to their bohemian religion of rainbows and gucci shoes. I find that kind of thing to be really shrill and shallow. Please Gore, never infuse your brilliant comedic prowess with the vacant wisdom of Sex And The City ever again. The Ring was actually crap too, but Verbinski's remake had me on the edge of by seat until it's unsatisfying non-end. That's purely a script problem, not at all direction. The Weatherman was sublime, a simple yet darkly comedic character exploration that would make Hal Ashby blush with pride. I really don't care what gets said, Verbinski's Pirates Trilogy was great. Honestly, I think it's nearly perfect. In many ways, to me, it's one of the most completely satsifying and well executed franchises of all time. Too bad Rob Marshall's about to screw it up. Or maybe he won't, who knows, but Marshall doesn't have the kind of virtuoso visual and comedic creativity that Verbinski possesses. Few do.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 3:39 p.m. CST

    The reviewer isn't lying...

    by Playkins

    A friend of mine that was able to see it at the Paramount lot a few weeks back said it's the best CG movie he's seen in awhile.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 3:47 p.m. CST

    Saw it...great movie for adults

    by spencer

    Saw it a couple days ago at a special preview. The animation was definitely top-notch and really surprised me. The chase scene involving a glass bottle and the camera moving around, to inside the bottle and then back out, was really impressive, and the water effects in the final scene (and the whole movie) were great too. Although the most impressive scene to me was an action-packed chase scene set to the tune of "Flight of the Bumblebee". The "rough terrain" and "Spirit of the West" scenes the reviewer mentioned were great not only because of the animation alone but a culmination of everything (script, direction, sound, etc). Like the review said though, it really didn't feel like a kid's movie. There were lots of metaphors, it got a little slow at one point, and there were plenty of jokes kids wouldn't understand ("Is that some sort of mammogram?"). Don't be discouraged by the Nickelodeon Productions "stamp", you will probably enjoy this just as much as your kids will.

  • Feb. 10, 2011, 4:23 p.m. CST

    Excellent written review makes you wonder

    by Wcwlkr

    It was a really well written review which could give one the idea inclinations of a plant. But I don't think so this really looks like a good movie. I think Depp makes really good choices and I enjoy his performances even in movies I don't really care for like Pirates 3.