After an extremely weak first quarter in the cinematic world full of remakes, re-dos, 3-D flicks and movies about gnomes (really
really?) we finally have something fresh, original, and quite trippy to kickoff 2011. Once again reaching into his Western roots, Gore Verbinski makes up for what he did to World's End and delivers one heck of an animated film. Rango is full of surprises: surprisingly violent, surprisingly smart, surprisingly full of western references left and right, and with a surprisingly incredible western score that matches that of Ennio Morricone (never thought I'd say that). If you can muster its sluggish start, extremely fast-pace humor and rather bizarre moments throughout, then you will thoroughly enjoy Rango and its Western mayhem. And who said the Western genre is dead....
Rango (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon that after a mishap inside his tank comes across a town full of desperation and hopelessness. With a little bit of luck and a lot of lying, Rango becomes sheriff of the town but runs into a lot of trouble when the water supply hits low and tensions start rising. The storyline is nothing new, but the script (Good work John Logan) is full of fresh ideas, fun action pieces, and a great assortment of characters. In the midst of the script lie so many homages and references to classic westerns you can make up one heck of a drinking game.
A strong factor into the fun of Rango is the excellent voice acting, which rivals that of Pixar's best casting work (See: The Incredibles and Finding Nemo). Johnny Depp is phenomenal in all his crazy roles, and his performance of the hilarious Rango is nothing short of brilliant. But, let's not forget the great work of Isla Fischer (as the lead female), Bill Nighy (as the sinister Rattlesnake Jake), and the great singing of the owl mariachi (Los Lobos). And speaking of singing, let's talk about music. Hans Zimmer was robbed when Inception didn't win Original Score, but he deserves even more praise with the score here. It is an incredible mix of guitar, strings, orchestra, and nods to masterful Morricone, and is hands-down the best score since Michael Giacchino's "Up." I am strongly contemplating buying the soundtrack if it's out in stores.
The three main reasons why Rango works: Johnny Depp, Hans Zimmer, and Gore Verbinski. Very few blockbuster directors have the zaniness and range of Verbinski; as his repertoire includes Pirates of the Caribbean (epic blockbuster), The Ring (horror), The Mexican (I still don't know...) and Mousehunt (underrated dark family comedy). His talents can be shown here as he interweaves strange dream sequences with unique action sequences and plenty of hilarious moments. This movie also doesn't hold back for the kiddies, as it has the language, adult dark humor, strong themes, and heavy violence of a good-ol' western. Just picture what were to happen if Chuck Jones directed a tamed Quentin Tarantino script. And Lord knows there is not enough Chuck Jones influence in the modern animated movie world.
Bottom Line: Rango works because of its fresh originality and its refusal to follow the clichéd rules of children animated flicks. It ditched the 3-D, ditched the watered-down tone we see all too much, while we experience a very unique take on Westerns while at the same time see plenty of odes and homages to them. The zany edge of classic Warner Brothers doesn't happen enough in this millennium (With Emperor's New Groove being the outstanding example) so its great whenever we see a Chuck Jones-style of entertainment. While the movie is quite gritty for a PG flick and some of its off-color content may throw you off, I am confident when I say that Rango is the first good flick of 2011. Once again Depp, great job. Your career is astounding and even underrated in critical acclaim standards. Zimmer, I think its time to start making an Oscar dedicated to you, because that was quite a musical trip. And Verbinski, I forgive you for World's End.
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