The famed visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) got their start animating tauntauns and star destroyers in the original Star Wars trilogy. Over the years, they have dazzled audiences with their groundbreaking special effects and industry leading innovation. Now in the year 2011, they have busted out of the special effects game and launched head first into feature film making with spectacular results. Under the guidance of writer/director Gore Verbinski, Rango makes full use of ILM's technical prowess to tell the story of one lone domestic chameleon and his comic misadventures in America's desert southwest. While the visuals do the production team justice, the story behind the beauty is much more bland as Rango and his animated counterparts whip up an eccentric kids comedy that is certainly unique.
Rango is no ordinary lizard. He's a hero in need of a damsel-in-distress; a champion in need of a worthy adversary. And a pampered suburbanite pet who wouldn't stand a chance in the real world. One bump in the road later and our lowly hero faces that very test as the ultimate fish out of water, err ... make that chameleon out of a terrarium. Wandering through the desert wilds of the American southwest, Rango (Johnny Depp) finally meets that damsel and fellow lizard, Beans (Isla Fisher). Following her to the hardscrabble Western town of Dirt, our intrepid hero suddenly finds himself actually living the part of the "hero." Pronounced the new town sheriff, Rango must lead the desert critter townsfolk on a mission to save Dirt or else face the wrath of a mélange of ruthless baddies in true Spaghetti Western style.
Rango is gorgeous. Never before have I experienced an animated film that literally at times had me convinced I was watching a live action one. The effects are simply that good. From whiskers to water, lens flares to dust clouds, Rango blows away the competition with its photorealistic effects.
The story on the other hand is well, another story. With director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) at the helm and Depp in the leading role, it's no surprise that I felt a little Captain Jack Sparrow coming through. If you enjoy Depp's quirky brand of humor and awkward physical style (which is perfectly meshed onto his animated counterpart) then you will love this film. I am not a fan, so I was only mildly amused with Rango's eccentric quips and spastic performance. Thankfully, the other characters pick up the slack and make for a jolly group of bumbling heroes.
The film plays like a classic Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western crossed with a Nickelodeon kid's comedy with a little Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas thrown in as well. As a Western, the movie has everything from high noon gun battles to bitter fights over water rights to the stereotypical stoic Indian who once again seems incapable of speaking in complete sentences. Thankfully, these characteristics don't overpower the film but neither do the jokes either. I could definitely have used a little less Hunter S. Thompson and a little more ha ha and he he. Beautiful animation, a Hans Zimmer score, and a strong supporting cast can only get you so far.
In the end, Rango suffers from a lack of heart. It's a film that draws you in with a big name actor and a slick marketing campaign, only to leave you indifferent at the end. It's an odd mix of comedy fun and existential soul searching that works just as often as it falters. Buy hey, at least it looks cool!
Rating: TWO AND A HALF BONES
Release Date: March 4th, 2011