Blind Wink Productions/Industrial Light & Magic
Now Showing at:
Review by: Larry Thomas
Going to the movies has always been a “luck of the draw” experience. Last Wednesday, I went to a press screening of an upcoming new film. This may have happened to you, when you know from almost the first frame that you’re going to hate everything about that particular film. But…this isn’t about that film. I’ll review that one in a couple of weeks.
Then on Thursday, I went to see the film for this weeks review, and it was a complete 180. I knew from almost the first frame that I was going to love everything about it. The film is Rango. Yes, it’s animated, but not your standard animation that you might expect to find coming out of Nickelodeon Studios. Rango is basically animation for adults, with enough distractions thrown in to keep the kids amused. And even better, it’s a film buff’s paradise, with almost as many movie homages…or, rip-offs, if you will…as your average Tarantino flick.
An ordinary chameleon, with theatrical aspirations, is heading for a new home when an auto accident ejects him from the car. He’s abandoned roadside in the Mojave Desert. A chance encounter with an old armadillo leads him to a town in the distance where not only are all the denizens a variety of desert critters, but their home town is just like a wild west movie town. And it’s also just like the surroundings that may be found in any number of Spaghetti Westerns, which Rango is gleefully spoofing with great love and care.
The sets, characters, and animation are really spectacular on the screen, and director Gore Verbinski, of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, has assembled a stellar voice cast. Johnny Depp is the chameleon who chooses the name Rango once he hits town and manages to b.s. his way into becoming sheriff. He’s very funny, and his style suits the character to a T. The supporting cast includes the likes of Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, the venerable Ned Beatty and Harry Dean Stanton, plus such great talents as Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant, and Bill Nighy, who plays the villainous Rattlesnake Jack with more than a passing nod to Lee Van Cleef.
Not only does Rango make use of every western cliché in the book, but also the storyline is cribbed from the best. Once you think about it, it’s obvious that the plot comes from anything ever done by Sergio Leone, combined with Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. No kidding. And if you’re a big fan of Chinatown, as I am, you’ll recognize the connection as soon as events begin to transpire. Not to mention that Ned Beatty, voicing “The Mayor,” a very old turtle, is spot on in evoking John Huston’s role from the Polanski film. The town called “Dirt,” appropriately enough, is a visual replica of a similar town in Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead, one of the best westerns of the late 20th century.
And if you don’t blink, you’ll catch Depp doing a bit of schtick that Jack Lemmon used in The Odd Couple. That’s one of the joys of a film like Rango. You don’t have to be a film buff to enjoy what’s going on, but if you are then so much the better.
Rango is a gem that’s at the forefront in the current wave of animated films, and deserves to be listed alongside with such masterpieces as Up and Coraline. I already want to see it again.
The PG rated Rango is now showing everywhere.