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Nordling Rides With RANGO!

Nordling here.

I didn’t get into the Western genre until I was in my twenties.  I’d seen several here and there, and I liked them, but as a genre it didn’t click for me until I was old enough to appreciate them.  It’s not like my parents who were raised on it, who saw every John Wayne or Clint Eastwood that opened.  When I was a child, it was all about STAR WARS.  Who could watch those old movies, with their horses, and their guns, when STAR WARS had spaceships and lightsabers and laser rifles?  STAR WARS took many of the Western standards, twisted them a bit, and for a whole generation, many of us never looked back.  That’s unfortunate, because it means that as a generation we practically killed the genre.  Oh, we get the occasional prestige release.  But now we get maybe one or two authentic Westerns a year.

What’s all of this have to do with RANGO, you might ask?  Well, if you didn’t know by now, RANGO’s a Western.  And as Westerns go, it’s a damned good one.  Our story is narrated by singing owls, letting us know that the hero of this story is already doomed, although instead of the tough-as-nails gunfighter we get a nameless lizard (Johnny Depp), with nothing but a headless doll and a plastic fish to keep him company in the fish tank where he lives.  It’s a sad, lonely existence for the little guy; to pass the time, the lizard acts out various stories.  In route to a new home, the lizard’s tank smashes on the freeway and he’s instantly abandoned, out in the wide world with no idea what to do next.  After some spirit guidance from a bisected road armadillo (Alfred Molina), the lizard walks into the desert until he meets up with Beans (Isla Fisher), who is trying to save her father’s ranch.  After getting a ride with Beans to the town of Dirt, the lizard literally makes a name for himself after he decides to invent his own identity as a tough guy gunslinger at the local saloon.  Calling himself Rango, he scares off local bad guy Bad Bill (Ray Winstone), and then he manages by accident to kill an eagle that’s been terrorizing the town.  In no time at all, he’s been named Sheriff by the Mayor (Ned Beatty) and sworn to be the hero of Dirt.

Dirt has a problem.  There’s no water.  Even the holy spigot that spouts the stuff every Wednesday has gone to mud.  The Mayor seems to have all the water he needs and then some, and no one is sure why or how.   Rango begins to take to his role as the town savior, but he becomes afraid that people will find out he’s a fake.  And all the while the terrifying Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) is coming to town and he’s not leaving until he kills this upstart sheriff.  Can Rango solve the mystery of the missing water and save the town, or will they find out who he really is and throw him to Jake?

Johnny Depp is terrific as Rango, bringing his own personal charm, some Hunter S. Thompson, and real sincerity and wit to his voice performance.  It’s probably my favorite role of his in a while.  Everyone gives good vocal performances.  The behind-the-scenes shorts showed all the actors working together on a soundstage, and the performances feel organic as a result.  Some of the performances are so good that you’re not just listening to a particular actor’s voice but just savoring the work instead.  Stephen Root, Timothy Olyphant, and Harry Dean Stanton round out the many characters and all turn in wonderful performances.

Visually, the film’s beautiful, quite unlike most CGI animated films of this type.  This is not a film that was designed by any kind of marketing department – RANGO’s characters are ugly, hairy, weird looking animals and none of them could be described as “cute.”  There’s a real sense of reality to the world created here, and Gore Verbinski and the team of animators that brought this film to life should be applauded that they didn’t candy-coat everything, but instead created a living, breathing environment that the audience could get lost in.  Pixar may seriously have to up their game after this film.  Although the animals aren’t photo-real there’s a texture to them; the scales of Rango and Rattlesnake Jake, the hairs on the furry creatures, and the feathers on the eagle look remarkable.  I’m especially happy this wasn’t in 3D – the natural dimming of the screen would have made all this gorgeous scenery look like mud.

Gore Verbinski does here what he did with the first PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN – he almost gives us too much to work with.  Like PIRATES, RANGO can stand to lose about 15 minutes in the midsection.  Hans Zimmer’s score pays homage to the Ennio Morricone music of yesteryear, and Los Lobos’ songs in the film are a delight as well.  John Logan’s script seems to pop, and it’s not afraid to be bizarre.  It’s funny in many the same ways a Coen Brothers film is funny – the dialogue is spectacularly witty and clever, but the real humor is in the characters and the situations.  The film’s not overly violent, but the threat of violence is everywhere, and the film isn’t afraid to let the audience know that it has the potential to go places that most films like this do not. 

RANGO trusts the audience to keep up with it, a rarity these days.  The movie’s weird, but weird in that fun way and the filmmakers seem confident that they can take the audience to places they didn’t expect.  There’s quite a bit of in-jokes (Hunter S. Thompson fans will have a lot of fun with this one) and a couple of character cameos that made me very happy as a film geek.  The whole film has a sense of playfulness in it that’s reminiscent of the best Pixar films.  The animators seem to be constrained only by the whims of their imagination.

RANGO plays with all the common Western tropes - the John Wayne days of derring-do, the beautiful vistas of John Ford, the gritty spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone - puts them all in a blender, and what comes out is something wonderful.  If you wanted to introduce your kids to the genre, you could do far worse than RANGO.  Like KUNG FU PANDA does for old school Shaw Brothers martial arts films, RANGO does for the Western.  Any geek parent could show their kids RANGO and then say, “You think that was something, check THIS out,” and put in RIO BRAVO, or A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and go to town.  If RANGO had been out when I was a kid, I would have jumped into the genre with both legs.  RANGO makes Westerns fun again.  A terrific introduction to the genre, RANGO is perfect family entertainment.

Nordling, out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 3, 2011, 9:23 p.m. CST

    No Thanks.

    by SithMenace

  • March 3, 2011, 9:25 p.m. CST

    Thank God, I wanted this to be good.

    by ROBRAM89

    This could be Pixar-quality and I desperately hope it is.

  • March 3, 2011, 9:28 p.m. CST

    Not First

    by Paul Franklin-Bihary

    I actually want to see this now. Seems to me the adds haven't done it justice based on your review.

  • March 3, 2011, 9:29 p.m. CST

    can't wait...really

    by Steve Zodiac

  • March 3, 2011, 9:39 p.m. CST

    I haven't seen a non-Pixar animated movie in theatres in years

    by BlaGyver

    But I will be seeing this as soon as possible. Looks great, plus Timothy Olyphant will get my ass in a seat for any movie.

  • March 3, 2011, 9:48 p.m. CST

    What do you mean..

    by airbrushpower

    ..No thanks!? This movie looks as clever as it looks stunning and the feel I'm getting from Johnny Depp's performance from the trailers alone get me excited for this. The humor doesn't appear to be 'jokes' but clever writing and situations. I am looking forward to this one

  • March 3, 2011, 9:48 p.m. CST

    At least this film LOOKS unique

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    And not just a copy of the Pixar/Dreamworks style.

  • March 3, 2011, 9:52 p.m. CST

    "this is not a film that was designed by [a] marketing department"

    by PotSmokinAlien

    "hmm, audiences are getting sick of this celebrities-as-cgi-animals formula, we need to shake it up. get that 'edgy' actor guy to do it." "the 'edgy guy's not gonna do it." "well, let's design the character he'd be voicing to be visually reminiscent of someone he respects and is famous for having portrayed in another film. audiences will feel smart for picking up on that, too." "works for me..." ...and 18 months later, we have our disposable piece of shit film!

  • March 3, 2011, 9:56 p.m. CST


    by Fuzzyjefe

    Gore Verbinski is becoming a name I'm glad to see after 'Directed by'. Look at his filmography: Mouse Hunt, The Ring, The Weather Man, and the Pirates films. He's has yet to be pigeonholed, and he can definitely handle different genres well. Honestly....he has shown the skill that many don't seem to possess--actually adapting to whatever genre he's filming. And really, almost all of his movies have SOMETHING to offer. I realize that not all of his films have been what anyone would call great....but I DO feel that if he ever gets his hand on a really good script, it'll be a home run. I look forward to his continued growth, and I wanna see Rango, for sure.

  • Being directed by Verbinski, starring Depp, in the western genre, with overt allusions to Hunter Thompson... ...but since I've been recently chilling with my 3-year old nephew and thusly being barraged by Nickelodeon fourteen hours a day, I'm dismayed by how much "Rango" is being pushed as a Nickelodeon kids' film. Is this a not-too-subtle marketing ploy to draw in a child audience, or does it speak to the true tone of the film? I haven't REALLY seen any reviewers clarify this either way. Thusly, I see this as a down-the-road Netflix type of viewing for me.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:09 p.m. CST

    Well kammich, the way I see it is this:

    by Fuzzyjefe

    Here in America, if it's animated, it's 99.9% of the time gonna be 'kid-friendly'. I HAVE read a couple of reviews that stated that it's packed to the gills with nods to films most kids aren't gonna get. But I'm looking forward to it because it seems to have just enough quirk, if you can get that. I honestly don't believe Depp would've signed on if there wasn't SOMETHING a little bit unique going on there. I may be proved wrong yet, but we'll see.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:11 p.m. CST

    "Proved wrong"?

    by Fuzzyjefe

  • March 3, 2011, 10:11 p.m. CST

    "Proved wrong"?

    by Fuzzyjefe

  • March 3, 2011, 10:12 p.m. CST

    Allow me to correct that:

    by Fuzzyjefe

    "PROVEN wrong". Nice site update....I want an EDIT function!!! Derp-a-motha-fokkin'-DERP!

  • March 3, 2011, 10:28 p.m. CST

    More please

    by Crobran

    I'm relieved to hear that this is looking good from more than just a visual standpoint. When you compare lots of the other computer animated films out there (I'm talking about films that are supposed to look animated, not films like Avatar), they all have a similar look, but I didn't realize it until I saw the trailers for Rango, and had something new as a basis of comparison, and it's made me want to see other filmmakers trying out new visual styles. It's also made me want to see animated films tackle heavier themes or subject matter. All of this has made me think of the Animation Festivals they used to show at the Inwood theater in Dallas back in the 80's. They were collections of short animated films experimenting with new forms of animation, or new takes on old forms. Often, the stories they told were pretty engaging, sometimes light and humorous, sometimes very dark, and there was a wide range of very creative visual styles. Computer animation has nearly unlimited potential, and Rango looks like a small step in a new direction.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:31 p.m. CST

    There's something you don't see here anymore

    by art123guy

    A movie review. I think the last one I read here was in January.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:37 p.m. CST

    Is it rated yet? That's supposed to be your kid guide.

    by Jaka

    These days its a pretty good bet that you're safe with a G, might not want to take a younger child to a PG, probably don't want to take a younger kid to a PG-13. Personally, I wouldn't have a problem taking my seven year old nephew to any of them so long as it wasn't a blood and guts PG-13. But I like that its weird, or different, and might contain jokes that he doesn't get (yet). Kinda tired of the same ol' thing all the time.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:40 p.m. CST


    by Fuzzyjefe

    It's rated PG.

  • March 3, 2011, 10:40 p.m. CST

    Forget it. Read it's full of bathroom jokes

    by FeralAngel

    The flick apparently relies on the john as much as it relies on Johnny, so I'm skipping it. Besides, the animals look like actors from Peter Rabbit the Zombie Hunter or something. Ack.

  • March 3, 2011, 11:20 p.m. CST

    "Proved or Proven?"

    by BiggusDickus

    From New Fowler's Modern English Usage: "In standard English, 'prove' alone survives with past tense and participle 'proved'. In Scotland and some northern dialects of England, the participle 'proven' survived. In American English, 'proven' is at least as common as 'proved'." Basically, pick one. You're on the linguistic cusp here...

  • March 3, 2011, 11:51 p.m. CST

    Thanks biggusdickus....

    by Fuzzyjefe

    I'ma go with 'provedened'. Shit, if Palin can get a word in the dictionary, why not ME?

  • March 3, 2011, 11:55 p.m. CST

    First CG toon I've been interested in for ages

    by Flip63Hole

    Disney's sequelization of Pixar has pretty much killed my love of animated movies but this will get my butt back in the theater. Sounds great...

  • March 3, 2011, 11:58 p.m. CST

    Sounds like a brilliant film

    by D.Vader

    The loser gets a spirit vision from a dead animal and he goes on to rule the town based on his vision from said roadkill? Awesome, I'm there.

  • March 3, 2011, 11:59 p.m. CST

    NOT kid-friendly

    by SifoDyasJr

    I loved the movie, but there's a lot in it that, if I were a parent, I wouldn't want a kid under 10 to be watching. There was one particular scene with a gun that had me going "really…?"

  • That's cool; that's somewhat revolutionary. I remember Road to El Dorado- or whatever it was- and Monsters Inc being the first animated movies to have the actors actually interact with one another for realistic responses.

  • March 4, 2011, 12:03 a.m. CST

    That is cool vader...

    by Fuzzyjefe

    but has it been provedened?

  • March 4, 2011, 12:03 a.m. CST

    "Disney's sequelization of Pixar"

    by SifoDyasJr

    Um, at least until later this summer, the only Pixar film that's had sequels is Toy Story, and each one improved on the one before it. I trust that Cars 2 will be good. I think I've read that they are gearing up to release two pictures per year very soon, so we'll likely get a few originals for every sequel they put out.

  • March 4, 2011, 1:06 a.m. CST

    can't wait to see this

    by JaredP

    love johnny depp and i like not love westerns like nordling i grew up on star wars and other films and and tv shows like it, battlestar galacitica for one. but im anxious to see johnny in this one. the western genre never clickd for me, a hardcore scifi/fantasy geek, because i didn't think it was as exciting as the other genres out there. has the western genre ever clicked with geeks? i don't remember seeing too many at comic-con

  • I saw the movie yesterday at a screening in Stockholm and left somewhat perplexed by who the movie is aimed at. In many ways it’s played as a straight western story with some of the oldest plots in the genre (people being scared off of their land so that the bad guys can buy it cheap and mysterious stranger walks into town and becomes a hero) but it also has a lot of wackiness with Depp channeling his Fear and Loathing persona. The tone and look of all the characters except for Depp’s is very gritty and they are quite scary looking which makes me doubt that this is suitable for children for whom it is being promoted here in Sweden. I quite enjoyed it for the most part but was disappointed by all the action set pieces which play out as the Phantom Menace with lots of “Oops I accidently saved the day by a long series of slipping on banana peels and banging my head against things”. Still the animation is amongst the best I have ever seen and when “Ride of the Valkyries” was played on banjo I was won over.

  • March 4, 2011, 2:45 a.m. CST

    By No Thanks I mean

    by SithMenace

    FIRST. Fuckers. Yeah, hate me. I'm listening to the Black Swan Score on EMPIRE for FREE. FUCKERS. I've been drinking. Sorry.

  • March 4, 2011, 3:08 a.m. CST

    Watched a screener of this Wednesday.

    by impetus

    Nordling's review is pretty much on the money. It's a great and quite humorous movie. While animated it will definitely find an adult audience with its film geekery. It riffs on some other movies (Fear & Loathing, Leone's trilogy, even Pirates 3), but never becomes a parody. The first 10 minutes or so are kind of bleh. Can't really pin why, but Rango starts off as uncomfortably dorky and his first encounter with another character is nonsensical. But things pick up considerably once Rango makes his way into the desert and strolls into town. The voice acting and animation are top notch. The character designs are awesome; wrinkly, dirty, leathery animals of different species. For some reason both my girlfriend and I thought the female characters (there are only a couple) lacked that unique appeal. Also, I don't think it's possible to review this without mentioning that the music is really quite good. Some comments above inquired how appropriate this is for kids. Personally I think it is basically alright for kids. There is some mild language and violence. Several animal characters are killed and injured, though not graphically. Some of the villains - which include a rattlesnake and a skink - may be scary to kids. Rango himself is a poor role model for most of the movie (he lies, steals, and even punches an old lady in the face), but of course he takes a hero's journey and learns from his mistakes by the film's end.

  • March 4, 2011, 4:43 a.m. CST

    This movie is fucking fantastic

    by applescruff

    It doesn't fucking pander and it doesn't dial down the craziness. This movie will give children nightmares and have film geeks praising the heavens that somebody decided to make an ORIGINAL story that isn't based on a fucking previously established brand of some kind, and do it with the same amount of care and attention and FUCKING MONEY that they give to a fucking shitty Bayformers movies. Fuck Hollywood.

  • March 4, 2011, 4:43 a.m. CST

    I hope it makes a fuck-ton of money.

    by V'Shael

    Because Hollywood needs desperately to learn the lesson - movies designed by marketing committees SUCK and will make you no money. STOP DOING IT.

  • March 4, 2011, 5:12 a.m. CST

    The marketing department has my kids hooked

    by theBigE

    They've been shilling this cartoon for months now on Nickelodeon. My kids (6 and 8) have been begging me all week to take them to see this on Friday. They don't do that very often. The marketing department for this film has certainly done its job.

  • March 4, 2011, 10:16 a.m. CST


    by BlaGyver

    I may be in the minority here, but I loved El Dorado when it came out. Haven't seen it in years, but I remember it being a pretty damn cool movie. I'd love to rewatch it sometime.

  • March 4, 2011, 11:15 a.m. CST

    Appropriate for a 4-year-old boy?

    by iceman199

    He loved seeing Toy Story 3 in the theater but that's the only one we've gone to so far. He keeps asking to go back to a movie. The reviews I've read have been mixed about letting younger kids see it.

  • March 4, 2011, 11:16 a.m. CST

    Appropriate for a 4-year-old boy?

    by iceman199

    Say Toy Story 3 last summer and he loved it. But that's the only one we've been to at the theater. Read mixed reviews about this being for younger kids.

  • March 4, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    d. vader

    by Shaner Jedi

    true Pixar did the "everyone in the same sound booth thing for the voice work. But what Rango did was have the entire cast act out the film on a soundstage and Verbinski shot the whole film. Then he took that footage and used it as kind of a guide for the animators to use to "get the spirit" of the performances. I say that because there was NO MOCAP in this film. None. It was all done with good old fashioned keyframe animation.

  • March 4, 2011, 10:46 p.m. CST

    Yeah Shaner Jedi, that's my point

    by D.Vader

    That's revolutionary in a way. No one does that!

  • March 5, 2011, 8:52 a.m. CST

    This film is brilliant in big, long stretches,

    by Subtitles_Off

    but I think it will bore the pants of kids. Unless the kids are really smart. Face it, that's probably not your kids. Your kids have been exposed to too much stupid, noisy s#!t already.