Thursday 10 March 2011

RANGO review

Now in cinemas is the animated re-teaming of Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. The trailer and my review are next...

After falling out the back of his owners car and free from the captivity of his small tank, chameleon Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) heads into the small desert town of Dirt, quickly making a name for himself by posing as a notorious gunslinger. Appointed as the new Sheriff to protect the town's diminishing water reserve, Rango must persuade the townspeople to trust in his judgement when bandits turn up in search of the water. Rango is the first feature film to be wholly animated by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the famous special effects company probably still best known for the Star Wars films. So no pressure then.

Rango is one seriously weird, mind-boggling comedy that may completely change your opinion of kids films. It's not often I find myself of the opinion that a film gets worse when it finally gets around to the story, but frustratingly that's the case with Rango. The unexpectedly trippy first act introduces us to this bizarre little Hawaiian shirt wearing lizard, wandering the desert in search of a purpose and taking many surreal a detour along the way. When the actual plot kicks in (the theft and recovery of the town's water supply), it detracts attention away from Rango's curious existence and becomes a lot more formulaic. Personally, I could have just watched Rango improvising with his desert surroundings for 90 minutes and I would have left the cinema happy.

Instead we have the town of Dirt, a dry and destitute place with some of the weirdest character designs I've ever seen. Cats, Owls and a variety of Lizards co-exist in this traditional western vista, all slowly falling victim to the unexplained drought that has befallen them. I'm just glad I took a bottle of water into this film, because it doesn't half make you feel thirsty.

It must be said that Rango is an absolutely beautiful film, using the decades of experience amassed by ILM to create an array of textured characters and environments so incredibly realistic, you'll find yourself wondering if you've slipped into some sort of peyote induced trance. The work that's gone into Rango's curious little face and beady little eyes is very impressive, with every crevice and crinkle filled with weather beaten detail. As for the voice cast, you may find yourself trying to recognise the supporting characters (Ray Winstone, Isla Fisher and Ned Beatty all turn up), but it really is Johnny Depp's show. Rango slurs his words and is prone to outbursts of great exaggeration; not dissimilar to Depp's previous role as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Rango makes numerous nods towards Hunter S. Thompson).

The music provides a great deal of authenticity to the film's western setting, complete with its own Owl-based mariachi band foreseeing Rango's demise. At times it's quite a dark film and handles the prospect of death regularly, but the sheer wackiness of it all provides a balance. It's amazing how much humour comes from the unfortunate affliction of one of the characters called Beans (Fisher), prone to freezing mid sentence and staring blankly into the distance. This truly is an odd film.

When it's at its most surreal, Rango is a fantastically unique family comedy; but as it slowly starts to follow a conventional plot line (the all too familiar quest) it becomes less and less of what could have been a modern classic. Visually, it's hard to think of any other film that's constantly wowed me so much, and in that respect the bar has been raised a few notches above Pixar's heads; I just wish the filmmakers had been as creative with their storytelling. But as a first attempt from ILM to enter the overcrowded kids film market, it's a bold, brave and at times brilliant experience.


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