Movie Review: Rango

“Rango” on IMDB

Comedy, 107 Minutes, 2011:

Rango can be, wrongly, lumped in with the increasingly large crop of disposable computer-animated family films.  Taken this way it’s a perfectly funny, appropriate story that will entertain your family for an afternoon.

All of the standard elements are here and all done well.  The well-meaning but oblivious hero.  The unexpected challenge that forces him to become more than he was.  The romantic interest.  The oddball cast of supporting characters and a smooth villain voiced by an elder statesman of hollywood.

But Rango is really something a little deeper than that.   The first thing you’ll notice is the loving care taken with every aspect of the visuals.  The character design is a wonderful mixture of realist super-deformity and the set pieces are richly appointed.  Environmental effects, too, are some of the best you’ll see this generation.

If I were to nit-pick the film, for all it’s realism, tends to play a little fast and loose with scale.  Insects, lizards, moles and owls are all about the same size.  Hawks and rattlesnakes are giant and humans still more immense.  It doesn’t detract from the story but against the hyper-realistic backdrop it’s sometimes a bit jarring.

The acting is superb.  The animation captures subtlety in the performances that you rarely see outside of Pixar.  Johnny Depp achieves a good balance of befuddlement and confidence in the main character and Ned Beatty is perfect as the oily mayor.  Timothy Olyphant also has a small, but memorable role, as “The Spirit of the West”.  Isla Fisher is also impressive as the scatter-brained but determined Beans.

The writing is superb in all respects.  The film isn’t afraid to wax sorrowful or eloquent.   Serious themes are explored without irony or apology.  Refreshingly there’s a near-complete lack of the momentarily funny but ultimately distracting pop-culture references that dominate “kids movies” today.

Kids will like Rango, seriousness and all (let’s face it: most kids films underestimate their audience).  It’s a shame that American audiences are still only beginning to consider animation a reasonable choice for serious film-making.  Rango has the heart and soul of a classic Western and judged solely as a Western it stands with the best of them.

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