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On our mission to watch each and every 84th Oscar Winner, we rented Rango & screened it on Sunday night. The trailers didn’t move me so I skipped it in the theaters. That was a mistake. It’s every bit as good an animated film as you can expect to see in a given year. No! You can’t expect The Lion King or Up. They happen but are rarities. Reportedly, 2011 was a good year for animated films in general, but Rango certainly deserved the Oscar. I plan to see Chico & Rita soon and expected against general consensus that it would take the prize, but no longer expect it to be the better of the two.
This marked Gore Verbinski’s 9th feature film. He’s most well known for the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and the collaboration w/ Johnny Depp continued here. To my eyes, this was the only good film the two made together. Verbinski’s other excellent film, The Weather Man, starred Nicholas Cage and bookended Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, the second and third Pirates films respectively. That fact alone gives me high hopes for the soon to be 48 year old Verbinski, who received an Oscar as one of the producers or Rango.
The animation in the movie is excellent and the voice over cast superb. It includes stellar performances by journeywoman Isla Fisher in the starring role as Beans, Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine Fame as Priscilla, and Ned Beatty as the Mayor. The brief appearance of Spirit of the West (aka Clint Eastwood from the Spaghetti Westerns) voiced by Timothy Olyphant is brilliantly penned, drawn & vocalized.
The film follows Rango, a pet gecko presumably who, through an unfortunate incident, gets displaced from his family. He has no name and adopts that one when he hits the Old West desert town of Dirt. He entertains himself in his tank by acting and this skill becomes very important to his survival in Dirt. Dirt is a dying town because the water is drying up. When he meets Beans, she holds a conspiracy theory that someone is dumping water into the desert during this terrible drought. Sound familiar? Chinatown’s main plot is co-opted for this parody film. Other films are parody in brief also: As already mentioned, the Spaghetti Westerns; also Star Wars; but perhaps the best parody takes place before Rango gets to Dirt and lands on the windshield of an animated Depp as Hunter S. Thompson’s as he’s speeding through the desert in a convertible. Classic stuff!
While never appearing on the screen, Depp impresses to the point of this being amongst his best roles, with only Finding Neverland and Chocolat easily surpassing this performance. In terms of comic roles, it’s up there with Johnny Depp as Thompson, Willie Wonka, Sweeney Todd, Mad Hatter, etc.
This is a 4-star film – well 3.5 really but I don’t do halves – and not to be missed. It’s cool and light and fun. Exactly what the doctor would order if you’re just about to leave his office and he says, “By the way, I found a human spinal column in your fecal matter.”.