A blog about movies and filmmaking.

RANGO Killed Me With One Bullet

In Animation, Family, western on March 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Have I ever mentioned that I love the Western genre? Well, I do. Three of my all-time favorite movies are westerns (I’m sure I’ve mentioned them a number of times) and I’m always happy to see a new take come out. Most recently we had the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT and before that…hmm. The Coen Brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN? Either way, there’s a new one out that stands up – and pokes it’s scaly finger towards many a-past movies of the genre (and a couple other genres as well) – right next to some of the greats. RANGO, the new “animated” movie from Gore Verbinski (the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies), starring Johnny Depp as the chameleon of the title.

Drawing from many of the great westerns, great genre movies, and even past performances of Depp himself, Rango is a fun romp with grotesque characters, heavy-story elements, and plenty of laughs. 

The story starts – and ventures many times – into strange, almost David Lynchian dioramas – with a chameleon putting on a performance with a wind-up bathtub goldfish toy; a headless, legless Barbie torso; a dead cricket; and a plastic palm tree. The story is cliched and melodramatic and suddenly, during the pet’s momentary existential crisis, he and his aquarium are flung from the back of the car it’s revealed he’s been riding in. The aquarium lands with a crash, all of the water is quickly sucked into the dried, thirsting concrete of the road. Leaving Rango’s skin to dry and flake off a number of times as he watches his wind-up goldfish flop on the ground.

Then the story actually begins. He’s guided to a small town in the middle of the Mojave, called Dirt. There he meets a varied cast of characters – yet all fitting quite well into the tropes of the western canon – including Beans, another lizard and obvious love interest (played by Isla Fisher – she was the crazy sister in WEDDING CRASHERS; and the crazy shopaholic in CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC); Priscilla, the rascally young kid who looks up to our maligned hero and is disappointed when the truth is revealed about him (voiced by Abigail Breslin – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE); the Mayor, voiced by Ned Beatty, and the town heavy, Bad Bill – voiced by Ray Winstone.

The fun thing about this voice cast is that a lot of the voices you’ll recognize, but it’s not brought straight out like in a lot of kid’s movies who stunt cast voices, hoping fans will come. I was actually quite shocked to learn of a couple of the performers who show up – and especially one, which pretty much made this one of my favorite movies of the year. No, I’m not telling you who it is or who they play!

The story itself, is as old as movies and westerns go. A town is being exploited by certain elements of the ruling class. The governments in cahoots with the criminal elements, and it falls to the new, mysterious fella to put it all right. There’s specific nods made to CHINATOWN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, APOCALYPSE NOW, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, BLAZING SADDLES and tons of others. What’s fun is that it all works to create a story that might not be wholly original, but it’s plenty fun and none of the homages take away from the story. (The Apocalypse Now reference comes in the form of an air-battle, that a group of moles are plucking “Flight of the Valkyries” on banjoes. It’s pretty awesome.)

The performances are fun. Depp, shows shades of the Captain Jack Sparrow character but also allows Rango to be it’s own thing. Not as far out there as some of his characters with Tim Burton have been, but still different and plenty eccentric. Beatty, as the wheelchair bound Mayor, has veins of both John Huston from Chinatown running through him as much as Gabriele Ferzetti in Once Upon A Time in the West. Fisher’s Beans character, is definitely an odd love interest choice in that first of all, she like all of the characters are made to not look very attractive. But she has some other maladies that almost make her seem like the EVE character from WALL-E.

Overall, RANGO was a fun ride. An excellent addition to the ever growing – and continually getting better – children’s animated movies that skew just that little bit more towards grown-up entertainment; as well as the western, which is always welcome in my book. Best of all, the filmmakers chose to not release the movie in 3-D and I love them all the more for it. (Though, I’ll admit, I would have gone to see this movie in that medium and feel like it probably would have been great.) The last thing to mention is the music and just sound of the movie.

First is the greek chorus – or in this case, owl mariachis – who continually show up, sing about Rango about to be dead and just contributing some fantastic score (in the real world, created by Hans Zimmer) and a final closing song – title “Rango” by the go-to band for these kinds of movies, Los Lobos. The sound design itself, owes a giant tip of the hat to Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone, as I’m almost willing to bet that the creators of this movie just lifted clips straight out of those men’s work. And I don’t mean that in an accusatory, or derogatory sense. It’s awesome.

So, if you haven’t already, go see RANGO. If you’ve already seen it, go see it again.


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