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Review: Rango ****
In terms of feature-film animation, Disney and Pixar are the leading brands. But now a new hombre called Rango has emerged to ride the animation range in a wonderfully audacious adventure.
Director: Gore Verbinski
- Writer: John Logan
- Music: Hans Zimmer
- Cast: Voices of Johnny Depp, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy
- (107 min.) A
The film was made by Nickelodeon Movies, a company that has been around for a while. They had some success with films such as The Spiderwick Chronicles, the Spongebob Square Pants movies and The Last Avatar, but now they have emerged as a credible, indeed outstanding, competitor in the animation field.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that Rango is strictly for kids. Like Shrek, this movie offers great guffaws of laughter and brilliant animation for adult audiences, making it the perfect family movie.
Rango is an animated Western epic in which the major star is a chameleon. His story is told in a film so unexpected and so wickedly witty that it belongs in the top tier of the animation industry.
Gore Verbinski, directed the first threePirates of the Caribbean films, which gave him deep insight and understanding of CGI animation. Those films also made him familiar with Johnny Depp's skills. So after his Pirates stint, Verbinski chose to make something fresh and original and on a much smaller scale.
He hired John Logan, a screenwriter and award-winning playwright, to create a script in which the hero was a small, insignificant creature who finally gets to save the day. Rango is about a loser who learns how to win, and the filmmakers chose the unlikeliest character to play a conquering hero - a chameleon.
This chameleon is a pet who lives in a terrarium, which means his world is very small and ordinary, but a quirk of fate occurs. A traffic accident causes his glass box to be flung out of a car and it shatters by the roadside. In a flash, this pampered city pet finds himself stranded in the hot Arizona desert, where hawks and other predators love to snack on small creatures.
While searching for shelter, the chameleon stumbles into a dusty little town called Dirt, which is caught in a time-warp. It's a traditional Wild West town filled with hard-working frontier families, surly gunslingers and tough guys who don't like strangers in their town.
It goes without saying that Dirt's inhabitants are desert creatures: lizards, rodents and birds of various kinds. They view this panicky city-slicker chameleon, who wears a Hawaiian beach shirt, with hostile curiosity. The chameleon is forced to lie about himself, pretending to be a tough guy called Rango.
He is immediately caught up in the town's various troubles as the inhabitants turn to him for help. Their water supply is dwindling and only one man in town controls its source. He is Tortoise John (voiced by Ned Beatty) and it's obvious that he has something to hide, which makes him take an instant dislike to Rango.
The townsfolk see Rango as the proverbial "man with the plan", but he hasn't a clue about where the water has gone. As he searches, he encounters nasty adversaries and the film evolves into the classic "stranger-in-town" Western.
If you are a film buff, you will revel in the witty references to classic Hollywood Westerns, from High Noon through The Magnificent Seven to The Wild Bunch. It's sly and clever. The kids in the audience might not spot those references, but the sheer fun of Rango's perils will keep them happy.
But if you do have that cowboy iconography in your head, you will enjoy the splendid array of Wild West villains, reptiles one and all. There's Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) and Bad Bill, a gila monster (Ray Winstone) but on the side of the good guys is a very quirky and delightful iguana called Beans (Isla Fisher).
The film does not miss a beat and, to make it absolutely perfect, there's a mariachi band consisting of four singing owls, which produce the musical narrative.
For me, the best moment is when Rango meets up with "the Spirit of the West" in a scene that is as wonderful as it is surprising, a flash of pure Hollywood Zen, and it's that kind of detail that makes it such a fascinating treat.
Until now, animation and CGI techniques have focused on mainly space adventures, comic-book heroes and epic techno-blockbusters such as the Transformers series.
In this film, Verbinski transfers those techniques to a different genre and, just as the little lost fish of Finding Nemo changed the animation genre, Rango will open all kinds of new doors for animation.
By Barry Ronge
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