With March comes the first legitimate, widely released, non-guilty pleasure film of the year, Rango. Early on, the trailer for the animated feature, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, promised a movie that would be interesting, quirky, and fun. The film fulfills that promise.
In an age of seemingly endless sequels, Rango is a refreshingly original oddity. Sure, it’s a reworking of a classic fairy tale, The Brave Little Tailor meets The Three Amigos, but as Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Rango is both. In addition, it’s an homage to Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns with traces of the Coen brothers and Roman Polanski‘s Chinatown and even Hunter Thompson. The general consensus is that this is not a kid’s movie. And I agree. I mean, how often does a “children’s movie” inspire one to quote Tolstoy?
At first “a lizard with no name,” from his sheltered, terrarium-bound existence untimely ripped, hilariously thrust out of his isolated, imagination-fueled fantasy-land and into the real world by a twist of fate. Armed with only his wits and his dramatic flair, he embarks on a quest to figure out who he is. Sent out into the unknown wilderness of the Mojave desert by the admonition of Roadkill (voiced by Alfred Molina), the sage-like armadillo, a traveler and roadside prophet, indirectly responsible for Rango’s new-found freedom.
And so, Rango’s journey begins. He finds his way into the town of Dirt, a rough n’ tumble slice of the old west if ever there was one . . . only with anthropomorphic animals. Eager to make a name for himself, both literally and figuratively, he adopts the persona of tough-guy drifter, taking the name “Rango” from a bottle of cactus juice. Claiming to have killed all six members of a notorious gang, with one bullet no less, his braggadocio earns him fast friends and even faster enemies. Skeptical local outlaw, Bad Bill (voiced by Ray Winstone) challenges Rango to a duel. Miraculously, a fearsome hawk intervenes in an attempt to eat Rango. Even more miraculously, Rango accidentally defeats the hawk . . . with one bullet. Appearing to live up to his claims, the mayor makes Rango the new sheriff of Dirt.
But things in Dirt aren’t as they appear to be. The town is in the middle of a mysterious drought. No one seems to know what’s happening to the water. And local rancher, Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher), wants Rango to investigate. When what little water the town has left is stolen, things go from bad to worse. Torn between pretending to be the tough-guy and figuring out who he really is, Rango must also save the day, cause “no man can walk out on his own story.”
All good fun. A classic hero’s journey, Rango is charming and witty with some amazingly zany moments thrown in for good measure. Johnny Depp’s voice work is marvelous and the animators do a wonderful job of bringing it to life. Depp’s performance is perfectly suited for the medium. He seems to be having a lot of fun with it. The entire cast, really, seems to be enjoying themselves.
The animation is gorgeous. There are some amazing photo-realistic vistas, thanks, I’m sure, to Roger Deakins’ consulting. Hans Zimmer‘s score is spot-on, a playful western pastiche, hearkening to Ennio Morricone’s iconic classics as well as Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin and even Bob Dylan’s soundtrack for Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.
It seems during the making of Rango a good time was had by all. The film is an invitation from the cast and crew to join in on the fun. Rango is, for me, the first great film of 2011. And you know what, I liked it better than Toy Story 3 . . . There, I said it. Feel free to chide me in the comment section. I’m sure Bryan will.