Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher
The action is planned and executed with style, making the most of the unrivalled dynamism of a camera in CG space
Directed by Gore ‘Pirates’ Verbinski, Rango sees him reteaming with star and box office lucky charm Johnny Depp for an animated tale that’s as much an homage to movie westerns as it is a kiddie adventure. And it’s all the better for it – delivering images suffused with dust and style while also presenting enough crazy characters, physical comedy and broad asides to keep the young entertained.In Short:
Rango’s journey is laced with metaphorical dream sequences, a morbid, desert-owl Mariachi band chorus and visits from mystical guides, including a road-kill armadillo and a fantastic, Stetson-wearing cameo which gives the filmmakers free reign to let loose some startling and beautiful imagery. It’s one of the most attractive movies of the year, enlivened by the deep red of a dozen dusty sunsets and a constant attention to the importance of depth of field which highlights every tortured crack in the water-starved landscape.
Verbinski is known for his attractive productions but he’s outdone himself here, getting close to the craggy features of the lizard, rodent and amphibian characters as they lounge in fabulously murky bars. Tellingly, this is also the first feature from ILM – the George Lucas founded effects company behind some of the most revolutionary visual ever created for cinema, stretching all the way back to the original Star Wars. And the technology is tremendous – starting with the cloth physics of Rango’s shirt and moving outwards to encompass stunningly life-like features on the supporting cast as well as massive vistas and particle effects that easily rival, if not surpass, anything done by Pixar.
Rango is first and foremost an adventure and the action scenes are both frequent and awe-inspiring. Whether our hero is dodging the attention of a hungry eagle or escaping from a bat-mounted horde of crazy hillbilly moles, the action is planned and executed with style, making the most of the unrivalled dynamism of a camera in CG space. If anything, these scenes might be a little too intense for younger eyes, particularly as the film doesn’t shy away from depicting the demise of its less savoury characters. And throughout, Verbinski layers on the movie references, not just indebted to the quickdraw duels and wagon chases of the Western but casting his net even wider to feature a hellish dogfight to the strains of ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ – with some banjo embellishment.
Amidst the stunning visuals and effective action beats, the comedy sometimes gets a little neglected. If the laughs are spread a little thin, at least they’re good natured, leaning heavily on wordplay and throwing out regular bones to older audience members – like a Fear and Loathing cameo. Depp is decent, though loses much of his charisma off-screen and seems a little too subdued for the role. Isla Fisher’s tones are unrecognisable as the lizard love interest Bean and the rest of the cast, including Timothy Olyphant, Alfred Molina and Ned Beatty, seems strong on paper but bring little sparkle to their anthropomorphic characters. Only Pirates alum Bill Nighy seems to be having fun as enjoyable uber-villain Rattlesnake Jake – a reptilian hitman with a Gatling gun for a tail. And best of all – Rango won’t be available in 3D. Anywhere!
It may lack the emotional punch of the best of Pixar but Rango is gorgeous, action-packed and genuinely fun. Remember when that was all cartoons needed to be?