Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I went into this one with very low (or no?) expectations, since I didn't know much about it and had never even seen a trailer for it. All I knew is that it was a Western-themed animated featuring starring Johnny Depp as the voice of a lizard. I also knew that it was a decent-sized hit and the darling of the critics. Even still, I think I avoided seeing it because the poster is just off-putting and because I generally don't usually enjoy most CG animated features and nothing about this one made me take a second look. But I'm glad I finally rented it, because it was one of the most clever, charming, and downright entertaining films I've seen in a long time. Rango is maybe the best CG animated feature I've ever seen that doesn't have the words "Toy Story" in the title, and that's about as high praise as I can pay.
Also, it's a Western, which I love... and a pretty darn good one at that. The story is somewhat cliche and nothing we haven't seen before (the nameless drifter arrives and becomes the town hero, proving his honor and courage not only to those around him, but to himself as well. That old chestnut.), but we've certainly never seen it before as a CG animated film, and we've rarely seen it done so well in any style. This was just a straight up fun Western about a mysterious man with no name... who just actually happens to be a Lizard. Johnny Depp seemed like an odd choice for voice work, but he gave a surprisingly great performance as the titular character who goes from being a lonely lizard alone in his terrarium to the hero who saves the town at the end of the film (Oops! Spoiler!). The rest of the cast is just as great, featuring lots of great character actors as the various animals and beasts that popular this fantastical Western setting. I especially like Bill Nighy as the villainous rattlesnake who has a gun instead of a rattle at the end of his body.
And about the animation, all I can say is that this is the best computer generated graphics I've ever seen, and I mean that completely. The level of detail borders on being photo-realism, especially in the backgrounds and overall look of the town and the desert. If you had told me director Gore Verbinski had just gone out and filmed actually talking animals, I may have believed you, since that's how astoundingly polished this film was. It's worth noting that this was the first CG film animated by ILM, and they totally knocked it out of the park and just forced Pixar to run and play catch up.
So... check it out. This is a great film that's worth seeing if you like Westerns or just CG animated films in general. It's funny, moving, exciting, and absolutely gorgeous. Don't be fooled into thinking it's a kid's movie since all of the characters are talking animals, however, since it's quite violent, dark, and somewhat existential in places, although I definitely think kids will enjoy it along with adults, although they may have some questions about certain things that take place.
Two thumbs up.