Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Rango


It is widely known that kids movies, by and large, have one of the, if not the, worst average quality of movie genres out there. This doesn't mean that there aren't good or even great ones out there. It's just, so many kids movie are so fucking terrible, that when one is genuinely good, it's generally time for rejoicing. Such is the case with Rango.

The basic premise amount to a spoof of spaghetti westerns. A chameleon, with delusions of being an actor is accidentally left stranded in the desert and, searching for water, ends up in a small town of Dirt, which is pretty much straight out of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Trying to blend in, he begins to pretend he's a gunslinging superman. Through a series of coincidences, which are JUST natural enough to not feel contrived, he ends up defeating a local bad guy and becoming the town's sheriff, taking the name of Rango.

Most of the film is given over to broad, if affectionate, parody of westerns, and it keeps on that track most of the film, even if the plot is based on Chinatown. Along the way there are a couple digs at Las Vegas the city and it's environmental policies (which you'll never hear me complaining about you mocking) and there is even what feels like a dig at organized religion.

On the purely technical level, the film is GORGEOUS. All of it is exceptionally rendered in loving detail and craft. You can see individual scales on Rango's head, tiny little eye movements, individual hairs and feathers. I'd even go so far as saying it's the best looking CGI film ever made. Add in actual cinematography and a great soundtrack from the always amazing Hans Zimmer and all of the technical details are perfect.

The voice actors are all great, working with a fantastic screenplay. What I like the most is the character of Rango. See, Rango isn't his real name and we never actually find out what his name is. One of the primary concepts is that, his natural chameleon nature combined with his desire to be an actor, means that he mimics by exaggerating, making him a complete non-person that all the other characters project their hopes onto. A theme that subtly used and intelligent in a kids movie is damn near a miracle.

It also (thank god) sidesteps the Shrek sequel problem of trying to make it appeal to adults by shoving in ancilliary pop-culture references in at the margins. Oh, there are a couple, but they're well used and never damage the overall film (and keep your eye out for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, one of my favorite books of all time). It also manages to keep the humor from being reliant on tired toilet humor and veiled sex references. Most of the jokes come from the dialogue and character actions.

It's not a perfect movie. At times it feels like it's moving a bit too fast for all of it's ideas to sink in. You'll see a reveal coming way before your meant to, it's multiple concepts and jokes (not to mention it's occasional drifts into outright surrealism) mean that the tone is all over the map. And while the script is FAR above average for a kid's movie, it never quite rises to the level of the animation.

Oh and while I'm not in the business of telling anyone what to do with their children, it's worth pointing out that this film is not suitable for all ages. Take the 9 years olds and older, sure but below that... Well the movie never skirts around the fact that the western setting means people have to die occasionally, there's a lot of dark subject matter and themes. So yeah, leave the 6 year olds at home.

Rango is the first new film I've seen in theaters all year (though I hope to fix that this weekend with The Adjustment Bureau and Battle: Los Angeles), it certainly gives me hope for the rest of the year. What you need to know about it, as a kid's movie, is that it's funny, exciting and affecting in all the right places. It's not a classic, but it's quite good, a well made and good natured film, well above average in it's field. So if you want to have a good time at the movies or have a kid of appropriate age, go out and give it a look.

Elessar is a 21 year Alaskan born cinephile and he is not ashamed of going to a kid's movie on his own.

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