VOCAL WORK BY Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy DIRECTED BY Gore Verbinski SCREENPLAY Gore Verbinski, John Logan, James Ward Byrkit MPAA RATING Rated PG RUNNING TIME 107 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Paramount Pictures
Rango (Johnny Depp) is an ordinary chameleon who lives in an extraordinary world - his own mind. However, Rango's ordinary life is shaken up when he finds himself unexpectedly flung into the gritty, gun-slinging town of Dirt. A lawless outpost populated by whimsical characters both familiar and far-fetched, Dirt is a bone dry town run by a disabled mayor (Ned Beatty) and his not quite right hand man, 'er snake, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy). Befriended by a nearly destitute lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher), Rango's life begins to change when a not so heroic act finds him recruited as the town's new sheriff and his long-held fanciful fantasies of drama and heroics suddenly come to life. Of course, sooner or later the truth will come out and our no longer blended in chameleon will either have to become the hero he's always pretended to be or resign himself to never standing out again.
In what may very well be 2011's first "must see" film, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp have teamed once again and have come up with a freakishly weird and wonderful animated experience that not only outperforms nearly every animated feature of the past year but has the audacity to do so with decidedly low-rent 2-D graphics.
Who knew they were even still making 2-D films?
Verbinski, who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, clearly is in tune with the wonder that is Johnny Depp and makes masterful use of the actor's innate ability to tap into the quirky and resonant world of virtually any character he plays live or animated. Verbinski taped Rango as Depp and his co-stars acted out the scenes, a bit of an unusual approach these days that works miraculously as the scenes come alive with a humanity and natural energy seldom captured in animated films. One may very well be able to argue that the animation in Rango isn't necessarily perfect, but it is a perfectly delightful concoction that will have you leaving the theater wondering how on earth Paramount Studios didn't manage to squeeze this flick into theaters int ime for awards season.
Everything about Rango breathes intelligently, yet it does so in a way that allows both adults and children to enjoy the film equally (though my gut tells me that Rango will be more popular with adults). True cineastes will marvel at how comprehensively yet discreetly Verbinski and co-writers John Logan and James Ward Byrkit have managed to fill Rango to the brim with movie references, homages and outright rip-offs. If you don't necessarily see a lot of movies, you'll simply enjoy what amounts to an animated spaghetti western with touches of Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Hunter S. Thompson and the list goes on and on and on. Once in awhile, you'll simply find yourself looking at the screen and thinking to yourself "Did they really just do that?"
Yes, they did.
There will be some, especially those dastardly critics, who will begrudge Rango for not being a more touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy creature with bonding galore and the obligatory happy ending. Ignore them, because they've missed the point and they've most assuredly missed Verbinski and Depp's unique vision for this film that is a cinematic creature all its own. Kids who are used to hyperactive filmmaking and require the dodging of large objects coming at the from the screen may find themselves less engaged in Rango, a film as much designed to stimulate the mind as it is to stimulate the senses.
Vocal work is stellar across the board, most notably Johnny Depp's completely engaging performance as Rango. As Depp does with his live action work, he refuses here to turn the character of Rango into a freak or weirdo and, instead, embraces that which is different as completely and utterly wonderful and exactly as he needs to be. Depp has made a career out of humanizing the most unique of characters, but there's something about listening to his voice while watching this chameleon that is simply hypnotizing. Isla Fisher, as well, immerses herself vocally in such a way that you completely forget that you are listening to this lively, beautiful actress. Bill Nighy excels as the menacing, perhaps to the point of being frightening for small children, Rattlesnake Jake, a larger than life rattlesnake whose image and vocals are both brought vividly to life. Stephen Root does his usual awesome work, while Ned Beatty and Ray Winstone are so comfortable here that one might swear they reside in this here town of Dirt.
Tech credits are absolutely pro, and it's refreshing to see a filmmaker and studio rely on the film itself rather than the 3-D trend of the month. 3-D would have added nothing to the film, and the absence of it makes it more financially friendly to families. Hans Zimmer's original score is spot on perfect, yet remarkably unique for a Zimmer score.
Rango inevitably won't please everyone, especially those who've gotten a bit used to the "throw everything at the screen" approach to animated filmmaking. While Verbinski and Depp do throw lots of dialogue and imagery at the screen, they do so in a way that complements the film rather than dominates it.
After two months of post-awards season cinematic mediocrity, 2011 finally has its first genuinely entertaining and captivating film in Rango, a reminder that just like this chameleon the partnership of Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp is anything but ordinary.