Thursday, March 3, 2011
What is it with Rango?
My roommate has a knack for getting sneak preview tickets so on Tuesday we went to see the new Johnny Depp cartoon, Rango. It is a difficult to describe Rango. Much like Up, Rango is an exercise in throwing some bizarre ideas around to see where things might go. In the case of Rango, he is a theatrically inclined chameleon, in midst of his own dramatic narrative and trying to figure out what ironic plot twists should befall a hero such as him to make him a more interesting character and allow him to win the heart of his beloved Barbie torso, when the tank, it turns out he was living in, falls out of a moving vehicle onto a desert highway. After a series of further misadventures Rango makes his way to an old west town called Dirt, populated by animals. Rango, armed with nothing but an ability to weave tall tales designed to sink him even deeper into whatever mess he is trying to talk his way out of, decides to refashion himself as a lawman fighter for justice, capable of taking out seven bad guys with one bullet. Soon enough Rango finds himself over his head fighting an assortment of villains as he tries to solve the mystery of the towns disappearing water supply. This is not a story designed to make much in the way of actual sense. Instead it relies on a series of brilliantly executed characters to draw an audience into a spirit of "what are they going to pull next." The story is being narrated by a group of four owl mariachi players who interact with the characters and produce a delightful banjo rendition of Ride of the Valkyries to accompany one of the wilder chase scenes. As with most of the best cartoons of the past few years, Rango is a kids movie that is not really for kids at all. Its plot is a running nod to Blazing Saddles and Chinatown with generous digs at organized religion and Native American political correctness.
As a production of Nickelodeon, there is a strong undercurrent in this film of being counter-Disney. The jokes are certainly more off color than what one would expect from Disney; it was even a step beyond Shrek. The animals of Dirt have a distinct gritty and uncuddly look to them as if designed to specifically to not be churned out into millions of plush stuffed animal. Personally I could go for a Jake, a Gatling gun touting rattlesnake. It says something that Rango, a lizard, is the closest to cuddly this movie comes. Instead of going for cuddly, the movie goes for a monster sensibility reminiscent of Muppet monsters, grim on the outside, but delightful characters once introduced. If Redwall ever is to get a proper screen treatment this is the look I would like to see it go for.
While Rango might not be quite in the same league as Wall-E or Ratatouille, it is pretty darn close and certainly worth a watch.