Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rango (2011)

Inventive, ambitious, but somewhat void of emotion, this animated homage to spaghetti westerns revolves around the titular chameleon as he poses as a small-town sheriff (A+ for originality there) in an attempt to discover the true nature of his self (that part's better). The first act is the best, as Rango, voiced as a lively, scheming huckster by Johnny Depp, attempts to make his way through the desert after being unwittingly abandoned by his owners. With no presence of identity, instinct, or empathy, his futile efforts to contextualize his plight are very humorous and, dare I say, human, as plot takes a decided backseat to character development in these early scenes. However, once Rango arrives in the besieged town (*sigh*, there's always a besieged town), the narrative settles into the traditional western structure: 1. stranger arrives in town, 2. Series of circumstances force town into reverence of stranger, 3. stranger begrudgingly takes responsibility for the town, etc. blah blah they find out he's a fake and he has to stop being one anymore for the climax to go down in a satisfying, explosive way. Save for one third-act introspection sequence (which feels like the rest of the film from act one after a lengthy narrative detour), there are virtually no surprises in the latter half of the film, and everything that isn't deeply rooted in cliche is telegraphed miles in advance.

However, I must say, the character work in the film is strong enough to warrant checking out the film. For one, aside from the three leads (Depp, Isla Fisher, and Abigail Breslin), the casting is refreshingly anonymous (though not quite up to Despicable Me's daunting standards), with names like Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, and Bill Nighy turning in invisible and strong supporting work. They contribute to what ends up being the winning point of the film, its atmosphere. The sun-ravaged, desolate nature of the desert allows for a more cynical, worldly edge to the proceedings; sure all the different species of animals get along, but they are only doing so to survive in an otherwise uninhabitable region. The villains are mean, the heroes are open and endearing, and the supporting characters all but steal the film. But, in the end, the shallowness and obviousness on display are abundant enough to render any possible emotion or depth in the film moot and ineffective, and the film's thematic content, although sporadically phenomenal and magical, is basically left out to dry in lieu of explosions and flying bats with gatling guns (cool, but child's play compared to dogfighting dragons of all shapes and sizes *hint, hint*). That said, the opening 20 or 30 minutes are fun, interesting, and, surprisingly, provocative, and along with the breezy and easy pacing and tone of the film, as well as its deep respect for spaghetti western aesthetics, it is impossible for me not to recommend this film to anyone who thinks it would be worth their time.

Slightly Recommended to fans of slightly off-kilter animation (this is a Nickelodeon Films production, and is accordingly out there, without blowing kids' minds) or spaghetti westerns. While the film gets a little too clever, and not involving enough, for its own good, it is a fun romp that, thankfully, does not require 3-D to create its own immersive world.

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